Current seniors will remember March 24, 2005 as one of the most bizarre days in their time at the University. As graduate student instructors picketed during a one-day walkout called by their union, the Graduate Employees’ Organization, students and faculty found themselves divided over whether to join the lines, cross them and go to class or – as some did – taunt the picketing GSIs. Many, if not most, of GEO’s demands at the time were reasonable – as is the case in its current negotiations with the University. However, there are two sides to this issue. If the University and GEO want to ensure that the current negotiations prove beneficial and feasible for both sides, they must take a more flexible and individualized approach to salaries.
For GEO to ask the University for more money might at first seem absurd. Graduate student instructors are granted many benefits that would make undergraduates drool. As they work toward a prestigious degree from a top university, GSIs receive compensation for their entire tuition plus an annual stipend of more than $15,000 for only about 20 hours of work per week.
That’s not a bad deal for a lot of GSIs, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone. Trying to support a family with that sum is a laughable notion. Likewise, while a free education might appreciate in value over time, that isn’t really consolation today for, you know, food. GSIs face other problems that scoffing undergrads may not consider. They are paid only for nine months and have to find other options during the summer. GSIs with young children must overcome the lack of adequate childcare services and overall difficulty of being both a parent and a student.
Despite these real concerns, it’s difficult to completely side with GEO. The University itself faces debilitating cuts in state funding every year and has had to raise tuition regularly in recent years. In the interest of minimizing further tuition hikes, keeping down class sizes and maintaining a high standard of education, the University will have the sympathy of many people on campus if it throws its hands up at GEO’s latest demands. But that’s not a solution.
In demanding a 9 percent raise this year for all GSIs, GEO is apparently blind to the fact that many of its members are well enough off without that raise. In countering thus far with an offer of a 3 percent raise, the University is ignoring the fact that some GSIs truly need more than that based on extenuating personal circumstances.
In a perfect world, GEO’s demands would be met, but with a reality of state funding cuts and tight belts, the University cannot provide a 9 percent increase across the board. An individualized system of need assessment, similar to financial aid, is perhaps the most reasonable amelioration the University can offer in response to GEO’s financial demands. Other demands – such as adequate child care and health benefits, and parental leave – must, of course, be met right away.
A comprehensive solution to this issue of compensation must, however, go beyond even that. It is the University’s purported desire to build the best intellectual environment possible. Toward that end, a reassessment of compensation for instructors at all levels is long overdue. While tenured, research-happy professors may truly deserve that six-figure salary, it is simply not right that many lecturers who devote just as much time and are just as vital for students are compensated so poorly (and often on a nine-month calendar).
The University obviously does have to pay its all-star professors in order to keep their eyes from wandering, but it must also consider that excellent lecturers and GSIs are often more important to students. Students may scoff at GEO’s current financial demands, especially because they could raise tuition, but we’d be much more open to a broader solution that more fairly compensates all of our instructors. That is a goal worth spending money on.