Open letter to CLA Dean James Parente

While I was disheartened by the recent failed union election, I take heart in President Eric Kaler’s recent comments, which you have echoed: “We would prefer to continue to work directly with each of you to provide you with competitive wages and benefits, obtain your input on committees and support your advanced learning, teaching and research.”

In my previous letters to you, Dean Parente, I pointed out that I currently pay 11 percent of my wages in University of Minnesota fees, putting my pre-tax salary at a mere hundreds of dollars above the poverty line. In my three years at the University of Minnesota, I have received no pay increase and have only seen University fees increase. You rightly pointed out in a terse emailed response that the University is currently in a wage freeze. While I understand this completely, this response does not really account for your own $5,000 pay raise between 2009 and 2010. This is also not taking into account that during this hiring freeze, Kaler’s starting salary was $150,000 higher than his predecessor’s.

I am writing to you to take you up on the offer to “work directly with [me] to provide [me] with competitive wages and benefits.” Why just myself? Why take up a personal employment issue in the newspaper? Why not write a letter requesting that all graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts sit down and work out compensation?

The time for collective bargaining is dead. I can only hope my fellow graduate students will follow my lead and take you up on your offer to individualize this process. I would have thought it would take a lot of effort on your part, but I am only following the wishes of this administration.

Your previous response referred me to the English department, but we both know that the English department cannot offer a fee waiver since they have already been forced to cut from the graduate student budget several times in the past few years. We know that if my fellow graduate students talked to their department chairs, they would get the same helpless look. You and the College of Liberal Arts have the budget, and our departments are helpless in this situation.

Fee waivers have already been granted to many graduate students in the sciences. I choose to not think cynically about those waivers by focusing on the fact that they conveniently anticipated the union election. But I am not writing because of the election or even because of some envy of other graduate students. Those students deserve fee waivers. I know many of those students. I am fascinated and inspired by their work and think their research is vital to the University.

I take this request public for one reason: I take Kaler and you at your word. I believe that the administrators, faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students all have their parts in creating a world-class university. But I don’t think any part of being world-class involves doing so by driving employees into poverty.

Taking 11 percent of graduate students’ wages has nothing to do with being world-class, and it has nothing to do with economic hard times — it is simply exploitative.

So here is my public request, Dean James Parente. I would prefer to have had collective bargaining take care of the business aspects of what I do, but since you have requested to work with your employees individually, I am taking you up on that offer. I would be happy to meet with you any time. I know your schedule will be busy, but since you requested this process, I assume that you’ve made time for it.