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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    GPSC study reveals grad assistant gripes

    Eighty-six percent of graduate research and teaching assistants reported that they were unable to afford health care for their spouses or dependents in a recent study conducted by the Graduate and Professional Student Council.

    “”That’s a huge shame,”” said Catherine Neish, GPSC president and doctoral candidate in planetary sciences. “”That definitely stuck out in my mind.””

    Similarly, 54 percent of

    It’s almost like a cultural problem that people just expect that you should work more than you’re being paid for, and that’s just not acceptable.

    -Catherine Neish,
    GPSC president

    those surveyed said they were unable to cover health care costs for themselves.

    More than 700 of the UA’s 8,363 graduate students participated in the Spring 2007 Workload Study of Graduate Assistants and Associates, which asked a dozen questions about their contractual and extra-contractual

    duties and the salaries they received as teaching assistants and research assistants, placing the focus on the fall 2006 semester.

    The respondents represent 15 colleges and roughly a quarter of the UA’s teaching assistant and research assistant population.

    Graduate teaching and research assistants and associates are contracted to work 20 hours per week. Thirty-nine percent of TA respondents, however, said that they worked more than that.

    Some colleges showed work demands that were more heightened than in others.

    In the College of Humanities, 62 percent of those surveyed said that they worked more than 20 hours per week, as did 50 percent of the study participants in the College of Science.

    Nearly 40 percent of all respondents said they never received a copy of the Graduate Assistantship and Associateship Hiring Manual, while 21 percent didn’t know if they had received one.

    Of those who did get a copy, 41 percent reported that they didn’t know and understand the guidelines contained therein.

    Twenty-one percent of TA respondents said they felt their departments provided insufficient training for assistantships.

    While 46 percent felt their salaries adequately matched their workloads, another 46 percent did not. Participants from the Colleges of Humanities, Fine Arts and Business and Public Administration were more likely to report inadequate compensation.

    Results of a similar GPSC study in 2000 led to changes in the College of Humanities.

    “”They successfully advocated for course releases for students in the department of English, which basically means, instead of having to teach four classes a year, you’d only have to teach three,”” Neish said. “”So it’d give you more time to work on your thesis.””

    Forty-one percent of respondents said their TA or research assistant duties were adversely affecting progress toward their degrees.

    That view emerged most from respondents in the Colleges of Humanities, Science, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Business and Public Administration.

    “”I would like to first investigate the workloads of TAs in the College of Humanities and in the College of Science to determine why so many of them are indicating that they’re working beyond their 20-hour work week,”” said Sarah Mosher, GPSC research and policy director, and a doctoral student in French and Italian.

    “”It’s almost like a cultural problem that people just expect that you should work more than you’re being paid for, and that’s just not acceptable,”” Neish said. “”If you’re being paid for 20 hours you really should work 20 hours.””

    The GPSC has also been working with administrators to make sure that the hiring manual is supplied to those who need it, Mosher said.

    Among the study’s recommendations, the GPSC suggests an investigation into the exact nature of the extra-contractual activities 23 percent of TA respondents reported performing, Neish said.

    “”Are they picking up their advisers’ laundry?”” Neish said. “”Things that are really outside their contract – we want to follow up on that.””

    BY THE NUMBERS

    40
    percent of TAs reported working more than 20 hours per week

    1/2
    of TAs felt they could not maintain a reasonable livelihood with their compensation

    86
    percent of TAs said they could not cover the health care needs of their spouses and children

    23
    percent of TAs reported that they were asked to perform duties outside of their contract

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