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

“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 2008-09, and the key issues discussed in the committee meetings are summarized below.

From last year's report: 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 percent 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.
(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.
(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.

Our committee continues to believe that the issue of equity among graduate student TA and AI salary is an important topic for further consideration. Toward that, we have identified key areas that should be addressed in a revised proposal.

Updated salary information. We were unable to obtain updated salary figures for the most recent academic year. Salary information should include a breakdown by college of the following information:
  • Number of students
  • Average 9-month stipend
  • Tuition benefit
  • Insurance benefit
  • Any other benefits that might be considered income
  • Income taxes
  • Net income after taxes
  • Tuition expenses for 9 months
  • Book expenses for 9 months
  • Living expenses for 9 months
  • Net income minus expenses
  • Lifetime Learning Credit
  • Net income minus expenses using Life Learning Credit
Accurate living expenses. A itemized listing of what is included in the living expenses calculated bythe Office of Student Financial Services (OSFS) is necessary to justify the proposal. Without this component, questions might be raised as to whether the estimate is reasonable. Half-time TAs and AIs receive health insurance benefits, and thus, expenditures for health insurance should not be included in estimates of living expenses.

Include insurance as a benefit. The University of Texas provides half-time TAs and RAs with health insurance. Although not calculated as income, it nevertheless is an important benefit that Graduate Student Academic Employees receive. The cost of this benefit should be apparent in any proposal for added funds.

Separate estimates for TA and AI salaries. The previous proposal did not distinguish between TA and AI salaries, which are different, and depend on whether the course taught is a service course.

Ensure that any increases in the minimum salary does not affect the number of positions. Because TA appointments are handled at the department level, there was concern expressed that requiring minimum salary levels will affect the number of positions being offered.

Urge the provost to increase funds for TAs and AIs. Currently colleges have to search for extra funds. This committee would like to see a reform of the current system.

Encourage AI appointments to be consistently for 20-hour appointments. AIs in some colleges are appointed for 10-hour positions and therefore get no health insurance benefits.

Identify how colleges are supporting TAs. The committee should obtain information on the mix of college and provost funds used to support TAs. If, for some colleges, 75 percent of their TA support is coming from college funds rather than the provost’s office, then they are investing more than the college that obtains 50 percent of their TA funds from college sources.

Fringe benefits
The committee continues to support the notion/idea that all TAs and AIs must be appointed on a half-time basis (20 hours per week) for 4.5 months in fall or spring, or for three months in the summer. Such appointments are eligible for health insurance.

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 twelve months and who work 1250 hours in the twelve 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.

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.

There are two different issues with respect to the grievance process. In one case is the student who has problems with treatment by the faculty supervisor, such as unreasonable workload, being mistreated, and so forth. In this case, the grievance process works fairly well. It is not clear in the alternative case when the student employee fails to perform the job adequately what the process would be, or what rights the student has in this case.

Motion to Modify Membership on the Committee
The C-12 committee will submit a proposal 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.
Edward Anderson, chair