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C12
Responsibilities, Rights, and Welfare of
Graduate Student Academic Employee Committee

Committee Members
Appointed Members: Edward R. Anderson (chair-elect), David G. Bogard, Brian L. Evans (chair), Linda E. Reichl, Hirofumi Tanaka
Faculty Council Appointees: Linda J. Carpenter, Klaus O. Kalthoff
Staff: Heidi Fagerlund
Graduate Student Assembly Representatives: Marian J. Barber, Melissa A. Martinez, Jaya K. Soni
Administrative Adviser: Terry D. Kahn

Scope
“To advise the Faculty Council and the president on matters pertaining to the responsibilities, rights, and welfare of graduate student academic employees.”

Graduate student academic employees include graders, teaching assistants (TAs), assistant instructors (AIs), and graduate research assistants (GRAs). The University employs about 2,000 half-time TAs and AIs each fall or spring semester.

The C-12 committee met seven times in 2007-08, and the key issues discussed in the committee meetings are summarized below.

Salary
Salary levels for teaching assistants (TAs) and assistant instructors (AIs) are critical for both recruiting newly admitted graduate students and retaining current graduate students. For both purposes, it is essential that a half-time TAs and half-time AIs make at least enough salary to meet basic living expenses.

Based on internal salary data and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) living expense estimates for Austin, 40% of the nine-month TA/AI salaries in 2006-07 did not meet living expenses. The average TA/AI salary for a half time (20 hours/week), nine-month appointment per college ranged from a high of $16,002 to a low of $8,714 across the 15 colleges/schools at UT Austin.

Here are the figures for net half-time TA/AI salary minus expenses arranged in four tiers:
  • Tier 4: -$4,794 (5 colleges)
  • Tier 3: -$2,494 (2 colleges)
  • Tier 2: -$1,901 (4 colleges)
  • Tier 1: +$1,825 (4 colleges)
U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and international students (who have been in the U.S. for five or more years) qualify for a learning credit on the 1040 tax form. The amount of deduction is adjusted based on income. Adjusting for the learning credit, the figures for net salary minus expenses arranged in four tiers become the following:
  • Tier 4: -$4,173 (5 colleges)
  • Tier 3: -$1,604 (2 colleges)
  • Tier 2: -$841 (4 colleges)
  • Tier 1: +$3,087 (4 colleges)
If only raised the minimum TA/AI salary were raised and there were no allocation of new recurring funds to pay for the salary increases, then the result would be loss of TA/AI jobs. A more appropriate approach would be to raise the minimum TA/AI salary and allocate enough recurring funds to pay for the salary increases so that all TA/AI positions are retained.

In November 2007, we submitted a proposal to the Faculty Council Executive Committee that proposed the following to redress the deficit in TA/AI salaries:

“(a) A raise in the minimum nine-month TA/AI salary to $10,948 and an allocation of an additional $0.6 million in TA/AI salary funds to the affected TA slots would reduce the annual net living expenses for the 303 lowest paid half-time TAs from a loss of $4,173 to a loss of $1,604.
OR
(b)  A raise in the minimum nine-month TA/AI salary to $12,083 and an allocation of an additional $1 million in TA/AI salary funds to the affected TA slots would reduce the annual net living expenses for 303 half-time TAs in the lowest pay tier from a loss of $4,173 to a loss of $841, and for 97 half-time TAs in second lowest pay tier from a loss of $1,604 to a loss of $841.
OR
(c)  A raise in the minimum nine-month TA/AI salary to $12,924 and an allocation of an additional $1.7 million in TA/AI salary funds to the affected TA slots would allow all 859 TAs/AIs not currently meeting living expenses to match current cost-of-living estimates.”

The Executive Committee did not bring the proposal to the floor of the Faculty Council.

Fringe Benefits
According to a national survey of graduate student benefits, UT Austin provides the second highest level of fringe benefits to its graduate student academic employees, with the University of Michigan ranked first. In order to receive fringe benefits at UT Austin, a graduate student academic employee must be appointed on a half-time basis (20 hours/week) for 4.5 months in fall or spring, or for three months in the summer. The intention is that all TAs and AIs are to be appointed this way. However, graders and RAs are often appointed half time for four months in fall or spring, or 4.5 months on an hourly basis, to circumvent the obligation of covering fringe benefits. As a safeguard, The Cockrell School of Engineering, for example, requires all of its half-time RAs to be appointed for 4.5 months in fall or spring and requires that all contracts and grants submitted through the school must include coverage of fringe benefits for each RA in the budget.

In the School of Architecture, according to Richard Cleary, a student may only hold a teaching assistantship for three semester-length appointments. Masters students are in the program for 3.5 years and pay into COBRA to extend health insurance coverage between appointments. The cost for COBRA is estimated at $400/month.

Family and Medical Leave
Family and medical leave is a common concern for graduate student academic employees and their supervisors. Specific examples include maternity/paternity leave and hospitalization. Hospitalization might include labor/delivery or recovery from surgery or treatment for a severe illness.

Faculty and classified staff benefit from the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. According to Lisa Milne, Human Resources Manager at UT Austin, “FMLA provides coverage for employees who are employed with the state for 12 months and who work 1250 hours in the 12 months preceding the date of the need for the leave.” Also according to Lisa Milne, the definition of “employee” for FMLA is the same as under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under the FLSA, graduate students in positions that require student status for employment, such as TAs, AIs, and RAs, are not considered “employees” for the provisions of that Act.

Since graduate student academic employees are not eligible for FMLA coverage, they must rely on the benevolence of their employing program to help. In the worst case, a graduate student academic employee who needs extended hospitalization in the middle of a semester could lose his/her position and fringe benefits to cover the hospitalization.

The Dean of Students administers a Student Emergency Fund for any student enrolled at the University: “This fund is for limited financial assistance when students are unable to meet immediate, essential expenses because of temporary hardship related to an emergency situation.” The amount of funds available would not be able to offset any significant part of a hospital stay.

Working Hours
A graduate student academic employee is expected to work the appointed number of hours per week while the University is in session. Graduate student academic employees cannot be required to work when the University is not in session.

Grievance Process for Employment Matters
The grievance process for graduate student academic employees with respect to their employers should come through the Faculty Council. Grievance on employment matters is different from grievance on academic matters.

The grievance process for TAs and AIs as described in Section 4.0.3, Teaching Assistant and Assistant Instructor Grievance Procedures, was somewhat vague of the HOP. We have contacted the Graduate Coordinators Network to create a simplified version of the procedures for distribution at orientations. The Office of the Dean of Students, Human Resources, and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost are working together on developing a unified the description of the grievance process.

Survey Administered
In November and December of 2007, we administered a Web-based survey of TAs and AIs who were employed in fall 2007. The survey asked questions about salary, fringe benefits, job duties, working conditions, and grievance process. We are still processing the results of the survey.

Motion to Modify Membership on the Committee
On March 21, 2008, the C-12 committee voted unanimously to propose to the Faculty Council to add a voting member to the C-12 committee from the Graduate Assembly. The motion came at the request of the chair of the Graduate Assembly, which received full support of the chair of Faculty Council. We are working on submitting a formal motion to the Faculty Council.



On April 25, 2008, the C-12 committee voted unanimously to propose to the Faculty Council to change the composition of the three graduate student academic employees on the committee so that one is an AI, one is a TA, and one is an RA.
Brian Evans, chair