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February 15, 2010


E. Resolution to Raise the Minimum Student Academic Employee Salaries to a Standard Consistent with a Living Wage for Austin, Texas (D 7847-7849).

Professor Andrea Gore (pharmacy) presented the following resolution that had been submitted to the Faculty Council by Professor Harold Zakon (neurobiology) on behalf the Responsibilities, Rights, and Welfare of Graduate Student Academic Employees Committee:
We recognize and appreciate the contributions of the thousands of graduate teaching assistants and research assistants at The University of Texas at Austin. Graduate teaching assistants play a critical role in the education of tens of thousands of students, and the research assistants are instrumental in supporting the research mission of the university. These students enhance the academic reputation and rankings of the university. In order for us to continue to recruit and retain the best students to fill these positions, we believe that all graduate teaching and research assistants should receive a nine-month salary that meets or exceeds living wage estimates for the city of Austin, Texas, and is competitive with salaries offered at our peer institutions. In this resolution, we endorse the allocation of funds to increase minimum salaries for graduate teaching and research assistants. We further assert that this increase in minimum salaries must not lead to a reduction in the number of positions, as this would compromise the teaching and research mission of the university; rather, we support better funding for the positions that currently exist.
Professor Gore reported that the Committee on the Responsibilities, Rights, and Welfare of Graduate Student Academic Employees had worked with Professor Brian Evans (electrical and computer engineering) and the Graduate Assembly administrative committee, which had passed a similar resolution focusing on the pay of Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Assistant Instructors (AIs). Professor Gore indicated that the resolution under consideration by the Faculty Council focused on TAs and Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) because comparison statistics from peer institutions were available for these two categories of graduate student academic employees. She said there was support for including AIs in the resolution, but comparable data from peer institutions could not be secured to provide a strong quantitative justification for their inclusion.

After citing data from Poverty in America that indicated the living wage for Travis County was $1,590 per month, Professor Gore reported that many UT Austin graduate student employees receive stipends that are considerably lower than this dollar amount. She said the committee members believed the stipends awarded to many UT graduate student employees did not provide a sufficient amount of funds to live in Austin, which then contributed to the large amount of debt being incurred by the students. She said the average nine-month stipend pays about $1,544 at UT Austin, which is less than the $1,590 living wage standard, and the nine-month stipend for GRAs averages only about $929 per month, with a very wide range of pay from department to department across campus. She said the lack of guaranteed tuition coverage was a problem, and this meant some faculty were able to cover tuition costs for the students while others could not. When students must pay their tuition and fees out-of-pocket, their take-home pay falls even further below the living wage standard. Professor Gore also presented comparison data that placed UT Austin at the bottom of the pay distribution for graduate student employees among the peer institutions to which the University is often compared. Professor Gore said she thought many peer institutions did not require TAs and RAs to pay tuition and fees.

In addition to acknowledging the contributions of Professors Zakon and Evans, Professor Gore said Professor Leeann Kahlor (advertising) had collected most of the statistical data used in the committee’s deliberations and justification for the resolution. She emphasized the importance of addressing the inadequacy of the stipends here at UT Austin by saying, “We simply can’t compete with our peer institutions. We run our research programs off the backs of our research graduate students, and it’s critical that we not forget about them during these economic times.” After noting that the current budget situation made this a difficult time to present the resolution, Professor Gore said it was critically important for the faculty to show strong support for graduate student employees. She said the committee members felt it was also important that health care insurance and other benefits continue being provided to graduate student employees but had decided to focus attention at this particular time on the issue of inadequate stipends. She closed by saying the committee recommended that other resolutions address the needs of the remaining graduate student employees who were not included in the current resolution.

Professor Hillis said he fully supported the resolution but asked if the committee had discussed how the proposed increases in stipends could be funded. Professor Gore replied, “Yes, we discussed it, and we decided we would not make that a part of the resolution.” President Powers said the question of where funds could be found was a good one and related back to earlier discussions during the meeting. He said it was important to know that the faculty thought this was a high priority, and it was one with which he agreed. However, he said it would be necessary to look at the budgets to see if this would be possible, but it would have to occur gradually over time if done at all. Professor Gore agreed, and then she said the committee would like to acknowledge President Powers for the frequency with which he mentioned the needs of graduate students as a high priority in his presentations about UT Austin.

Professor Martha Hilley (music) commented that faculty and graduate student employees were concerned that the small raise pool might result in a reduction in the number of graduate assistantships. She said such a reduction was perceived as potentially having an adverse impact on those students who are progressing from masters to doctoral studies because their moving up might cause them to lose their current assistantships, and the scarcity of positions would put them at a disadvantage for finding other assistantships. Professor Gore said that the resolution stipulated that the increase in stipends should not result in a reduced number of positions for graduate student employees. When Professor Linda Golden asked if the committee had analyzed the impact that the increased pay might have, given that TA allocations have been decreasing over time, Professor Gore said the committee had decided not to deal with that issue. Professor Golden then said she was concerned that leaving the AIs off of the resolution due to data limitations might be perceived as an intentional omission. Professor Evans said he wanted to have AIs and GRAs included in all of the various motions, but he did not succeed. He hoped that the “ensemble of three motions” would, in the aggregate, cover all categories of graduate student employees. When Chair Staiger asked Professor Gore if the lack of comparison data was the primary reason the AIs were not included, Professor Gore said she had wanted to include AIs but the committee had chosen not to include them. She said the justification was heavily based on numerical comparisons between UT Austin and its peer institutions so she thought the committee members were uneasy about including a group for which they had no supporting documentation. Chair Staiger said it might be possible to assume that since AIs generally are paid more than TAs that AIs would be implicitly included.

Chair Staiger asked if there were any more questions or comments and there were none. She called for the vote, and the resolution passed unanimously by voice vote. Professor Evans thanked Chair Staiger for her leadership in getting all three groups to work together. After thanking Professor Evans, Chair Staiger encouraged everyone to attend the joint meeting with the Texas A&M Senate on March 1 in College Station and called attention to other announcements listed on the agenda.

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