Grad assistants want a raise

by Charlie Bartlett

Some University of Minnesota graduate assistants say they aren’t being fairly compensated for their contributions to the school.
While wages for graduate teaching assistants and graduate instructors vary across the University, post-undergraduate student government leaders have recently sparked discussions about raising salaries. 
Council of Graduate Students President Andrew McNally said the organization has been looking at the issue for some time but making a formal statement has been complicated because of the variability in wages between different departments.
The minimum and maximum salaries for graduate assistants are determined by the Office of Human Resources on a yearly basis, Vice Provost and Dean of
Graduate Education Henning Schroeder said, but colleges and departments set individual wages.
The minimum salary for a graduate assistant employed in the current fiscal year for a full-time, 12-month term is $36,962, while the minimum for those in a nine-month term is $27,719.
These numbers could be problematic when compared to the cost of living in the metropolitan area, McNally said, especially because many graduate assistants are employed part time and don’t receive the full amount.
Despite not having influence over graduate assistant salaries, the Graduate School increased the 9-month stipend given to those in the Doctoral Dissertation
Fellowship and Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship programs from $22,500 to $23,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, Schroeder said.
He said the points raised by the student government leaders have contributed to discussion within the Graduate School regarding the value of graduate assistants, and he said he hopes they will be able to continue the conversations on wages and fees across departments.
OHR Director of Employee Relations Patti Dion said in an email statement that the graduate assistant pay range will increase by 2 percent, pending Board of Regents approval in June.
Still, McNally said, student leaders would like to see even more of an increase to improve the livelihoods of graduate assistants.
In terms of graduate students who only work part-time and receive half of the minimum salary, the 2 percent increase wouldn’t be significant, McNally 
Graduate and Professional Student Assembly member and student representative to the Board of Regents Damien Carriere said he has been working on compiling data regarding graduate assistant wages.
“It is undoubtedly an issue,” he said. “The question is, how do we engage it?”
According to data from 2008 to 2013 compiled by COGS from the Office of Measurement Services, graduate student instructors and teaching assistants were rated by students equally or higher than other faculty in many areas of the evaluations.
McNally said this should be a bigger factor when considering their compensation.
“[Graduate students] want to make sure their work is rewarded with a measure of visibility,” he said.