Archive for Wednesday, February 15, 2006

GTAs try to rally support for their goals

Graduate teaching assistants want KU to lift 10-semester limit on working

February 15, 2006


Brian Azcona wore a rubber pig mask Tuesday as he posed as a Kansas University bureaucrat standing in the way of graduate teaching assistants' interests.

"We've had a tough time with negotiations so far," the co-president of the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition said.

The students gathered outside KU's Strong Hall for a theatrical rally to garner support for their goal of brokering a deal with KU for better salaries, benefits and conditions.

University spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said salaries for graduate teaching assistants have increased more than any other employee group in recent years and the university is committed to reaching an agreement with the students in this latest round of negotiations.

"The university is very interested in advancing the negotiations," Bretz said.

Both sides return to the bargaining table today.

GTAC represents KU's roughly 900 graduate teaching assistants. The group for months has been working on its third memorandum of agreement. As the coalition continues negotiating, the students work under an agreement that formally expired in the fall.

Brian Azcona, co-president of the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition at KU, wears a mask to portray a "KU bureaucrat" as GTAs and supporters rally outside of Strong Hall on the Kansas University campus on Tuesday.

Brian Azcona, co-president of the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition at KU, wears a mask to portray a "KU bureaucrat" as GTAs and supporters rally outside of Strong Hall on the Kansas University campus on Tuesday.

GTA salaries have increased in recent years. In fiscal 2003, the minimum salary for a nine-month appointment was $8,000, according to KU. Today, that figure is $10,000. And the average salary has climbed from $11,349 in 2003 to $12,941 for fiscal 2005.

The students have received an average salary increase of 30 percent since 2003 - far more than any other KU employee group, Bretz said.

That figure is the increase in funds to the entire pool of GTAs. Some individuals may have received higher or lower percentage increases.

Salaries and conditions have improved, GTAC members acknowledged. But they said they still need a minimum pay raise to make ends meet.

They're also asking for improvements to benefits and a lifting of the 10-semester limit on the amount of time assistants can work.

GTAC members said the university is stalling negotiations by only scheduling a few bargaining sessions for this semester. But Bretz said it's the students who are holding negotiations back by declining to meet during the summer and at other times.

"Come support your GTAs," GTAC Co-President Kyle Waugh shouted through a megaphone Tuesday to students passing by on Jayhawk Boulevard.

A group of GTAs lined up and linked hands. They wore shirts spelling out "10 Semester Limit." Behind them, a student carried a sign portraying the students' contract.

The group called for passersby to run toward the line and attempt to symbolically break the 10-semester limit.

Azcona, wearing a brown coat and tie and carrying a briefcase, symbolized the bureaucrat protecting the 10-semester limit.

Katy Andrus, a sophomore, was among those who volunteered to try to break the line. The graduate students aren't being treated fairly, she said.

"What can you do besides making a spectacle?" she said.

Salary comparisons

Here are GTA salaries compared among 14 public university members of the Association of American Universities. The 2005 salaries are for GTAs with nine-month, 20-hour per week appointments.

University of Nebraska: $14,148 University of Michigan: $13,893 Michigan State University: $13,004 University of Colorado: $12,763 Purdue University: $12,576 University of Illinois: $12,571 Ohio State University: $12,396 Kansas University: $12,361 University of Iowa: $11,704 University of Wisconsin: $11,549 Indiana University: $11,436 University of Minnesota: $11,014 Iowa State University: $10,770 University of Missouri: $10,462


rodkil_drummer 12 years, 3 months ago

Graduate school and teaching assistantships are privileges, not rights. When I was there, I received a stipend, not a "salary," a full tuition waiver, and teaching experience at a major university, for which I will always be grateful. Grad school is not supposed to be a career, it's a stepping stone.

Rhoen 12 years, 3 months ago

The fact is that graduate teaching assistants at KU serve to generate a HUGE amount of tuition revenue as they process as many students through the institution as can possibly be fit into the decaying classrooms.

This frees up tenured faculty to keep the graduate students academically viable enough to keep doing the teaching and to keep themselves in shape for tenure and promotion. (Once they have tenure, they can relax a little and stand around the GTA rallies thinking fondly of the '60's.)

Graduate assistants and the faculty who are actually teaching - at salaries lower than peer institutions - serve to generate the kind of income necessary to fund the bloated administrator salaries that KU other institutions of higher learning pay.

The facilitation of the life-style of higher ed administrators is the true reason-for-being of both students (grad and undergrad) and faculty, at KU and elsewhere.

According to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education supplement, the median salary of university presidents is $360,000 per year. Compare this to median faculty salaries - you can even include the high average wage paid to business, law, and med school profs. Then compare it to the wage paid teaching assistants.

Once you've done that, factor in the number of undergrad students that graduate assistants teach and compare that to the average number of students assigned to tenure-track faculty. The teaching assistants are shouldering the bulk of the load.

If and when the GTA's have earned their own graduate degrees - which most prioritize behind their teaching - only about one in five will find a tenure-track position. The vast majority of them will find many years of adjunct teaching and high student loan payments. Something to look forward to.

rodkil_drummer may be thinking of the Old School, where higher education was a calling, not an industry. That was then. This is now. How much is the new Provost going to earn?

rodkil_drummer 12 years, 3 months ago

Rhoen, You make some very valid observations, thanks for helping me broaden my perspective. I wholeheartedly support more funds for faculty/GTAs when compared to administrator salaries. You're also right that I see teaching, at any level, as a calling and a public service. In addition, I recognize that GTA treatment and loads vary from one department to the next, and that I was very fortunate.

craigers 12 years, 3 months ago

They should definitely get a raise. I don't think the professors should get all the money when the GTAs are the ones doing the teaching and study sessions. Sometimes, after talking to KU students, who is actually the teacher in their classes?

fairae 12 years, 3 months ago

Ok, lets add this up, 20 hours a week, for 9 months is 720 hours. With a base salary of lets say $11,000 that comes out to $15.27 per hour. I can honestly say, I also work for the university in a technical position overseeing several people as well as going to class full time with absolutly no tuition assistance. Doing this I make almost $5 less an hour. I have absolutly no feeling for these GTA's. In the real world, their job is to either make money for someone or create their own business. Not determine after their appointment as a GTA to say, "well ya know, with all these students (as was declared in my contract) I think I should break my contract and demand more money because I am a greedy, self-centered person that does not care about absolutely anything else." Humm, sounds like most of the GTA's that I have had... The professors are there making the money that they do because they already have earned their PH.D. etc. and have many years teaching in the classroom. Not to mention the fact that alot of them do research full-time along with teaching a few classes. Be glad that you are one of the few that have a GTA position, if you dont like it, QUIT! If you dont like the wages, GO TO ANOTHER SCHOOL! Life stinks, deal with it. Be thankful that you dont have to pay for school,(like the rest of us) receive a very nice paycheck and only have to do something 20 hours a week.

Miyagi_Rules 12 years, 3 months ago

Fairae -

Your point on the hourly wages would be valid if indeed it were a 20 hour per week job, it's not, it's more like 50-60 (more for people who don't slack off as much as me). The 20 hour figure is just an artifact of the contract to reflect the idea that a GTA is half-student and half-instructor. Your point that faculty make the big bucks because they also have to do research is also off track- graduate students also are expected to do a hefty share of research, both to support current faculty and to further their own careers.

All of that being said I have no complaints with the compensation that I receive as a GTA at KU. I made the choice to leave the "real-world" and go back to graduate school with the full understanding that the compensation was going to be less than desirable, but there are also a lot of benefits. As rodkil_drummer stated previously it is absolutely a privilege to get to work with outstanding faculty members, receive a free education, and get to interact with and teach undergraduate students. But lay off the GTAC- they're just trying to do their job.

Rhoen 12 years, 3 months ago

Regarding the GTA pay post:

The time spent in the classroom is only the tip of the workload iceberg - There is also the time spent preparing lectures, grading papers and exams, consulting with students ...

If you factor in all of the hours required outside the classroom, you'd find that the hourly wage is far lower than a living wage would be.

dex 12 years, 3 months ago

if any increase in the cost/per GTA hour is gouing to be drawn directly from tuition, how much would the cost-per-credit hour need to be increased? assuming the total teaching hours remains constant...

JazzEgle 12 years, 3 months ago

Ideally the school shouldn't have any GTA's, because professors should be focusing on teaching the students, not doing research all the time. That's why I'm not going to school at KU, it's nice to have real professors teach my classes, and no people who graduated a year or two before I got to school.

Bubarubu 12 years, 3 months ago

Jazz--The stuff that professors teach you, where do you think it comes from? Someone has to do research in order to have stuff to teach, right? If not the professors, then who?

Don't get me wrong, I went to an undergrad institution with almost no graduate program. I have one TA teach one class, and that was it. But KU's mission, as a research I-extensive, is very different. Professors should be teaching, but there's nothing wrong with TAs teaching lower-level classes. Besides, where do you think your current professors got their first teaching experience?

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