GSI’s must re-examine motivations for walkout

To the Daily:

GSI = graduate student instructor. Let’s dissect that title briefly. Graduate denotes having earned a minimum of a bachelor’s degree somewhere, so presumably not being naive. Student — my favorite word in the definition, denoting the fact that they are still taking classes and in the process of educating themselves. Instructor — they’re imparting some of their partially learned knowledge back upon other students.

The role of the GSI was created to give University graduate students valuable experience while also helping to teach the undergrads of the University. At some point GSIs got into the mentality of thinking of these as permanent jobs that should have permanent pay and benefits — if the University stops paying their tuition, then I’d agree. As long as they’re getting their degrees for free, however, my blood’s going to boil when they risk our education to ask for even more compensation.

As a Law student who also received my undergrad degree from the University, I’ve been here for six years — and it’s hard to be able to pick a year out of that mix that did NOT involve the GSIs threatening to strike or striking in some way, shape or manner. I’ve never ceased to be amazed at their gall.

In addition to having their classes paid for and receiving some form of benefits, GSIs are paid somewhere around $14,000 a year. What’s the difference between them and most of us who PAY $15,000 to 35,000 a year? They assist a professor in teaching a class. Some of them don’t even do this — they assist professors in research.

In order to become a professor, learning research and/or teaching is necessary, the central justification for the existence of GSIs in the first place. This practical knowledge and experience is invaluable — the same type you get working in a summer internship on Capitol Hill or for a nonprofit organization. By comparison, however, you don’t get paid for your internship, while GSIs are compensated tens of thousands of dollars in free education, salary and benefits. GSI spouses get their health care premiums covered, too!

If the GSIs walk out, it should give you an extra reason to go to class — it’s the equivalent of trying to take away the education you’re paying for. This would be bad enough even if GSI living situations were dire, but they’re students — just like you and me, except they get free tuition and a boatload of money in a stipend. See if they can look you in the eye and tell you their pay raise is worth denying you and your classmates’ education — at a university, no less.

GSIs should be doing what they do because they want to become professors and serve students and the educational process — walking out on student classes a month before finals in order to haggle over getting paid more to do so is about as antithetical to that purpose as could be. If you’re a GSI and you’re not thankful for the education and experience you’re getting, you shouldn’t be a GSI.

Matt Nolan

The letter writer is a Law student and

a former president of the

Michigan Student Assembly.



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