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January 26, 2016

Pay Increases for Graduate Students to be Implemented in Coming Years

Graduate students in the Social Sciences and Humanities Divisions, the Divinity School, and the School of Social Service Administration will receive a pay raise, the University announced early last month.

In the first of two e-mails sent by Provost Eric D. Isaacs last month, Issacs detailed the $2,000 increase in the Graduate Aid Initiative (GAI) stipend to Ph.D. students who currently receive the stipend, to be implemented over the next two years. In fall of 2016, the stipends will increase by $1,000. Total stipends for students who receive summer funding will rise from $23,000 to $27,000, including the teaching component of the GAI. In fall of 2017, the GAI minimum standard stipends will increase by another $1,000, up to $28,000 each year.

The second e-mail, sent on December 8, outlined a 20 percent increase in teaching compensation for post-GAI fellowship Ph.D. students who are beyond their fifth year, have achieved candidacy, and are making appropriate progress towards their degrees. Qualifying lecturers will now be paid $6,000 per quarter instead of the previous $5,000 and TAs will be paid $3,600, up from $3,000.

Tanima, who declined to give her last name, is a second-year graduate student in the Social Sciences Division and member of Graduate Students United (GSU). Tanima said that the new wage increase was insufficient to offset the rising costs of graduate student living. GSU is a UChicago graduate student movement that, since its founding in 2007, has pushed for improved conditions. 

“Even if you get a standard lecturer position every quarter of the year...that’s the best case scenario, previously you were paid $5000…now you’re paid $6000…with all your other fees that you’re paying…you’re barely making ends meet,” Tanima said.

Tanima stated that only the formation of a legally recognized graduate student union could give students an equal voice at the bargaining table and prevent the University from making arbitrary decisions about graduate students’ wages and benefits.

“The administration has framed [the raise] as “out of our own benevolence”… but the first time that [wages went up] was in 2008 and that was after sustained efforts by GSU.”

The wage increase for graduate students follows the successful unionization of non-tenure track faculty in mid-December. Andrew Yale, who graduated with a Ph.D. from the Department of English Language and Literature in 2015 and is now involved with the Faculty Forward initiative, cited the presence of GSU on campus and the newfound alertness on campus for labor organizing as reasons behind the increase. “The wage increase is a win for labor on campus. The Faculty Forward bargaining committee intends to build on that win,” Yale said.

The two e-mails also outlined plans for a framework that “best approximates the general hours worked for various teaching-related positions” and individual counseling on topics such as fellowship statements and pedagogical practices.

The announcement also reiterated the University’s 19.5-hour cap on graduate student employment. “We view graduate student members of our community first and foremost as students and this prioritization of their academic progress informs the University’s long-standing policy that full-time students should work less than half a week (i.e., no more than 19.5 hours), on average, across the academic year,” the second e-mail stated.

When asked about the rationale behind the recent wage increase, Beth Niestat, the executive director of UChicagoGRAD administration and policy, said the decision-making is complex.

“Student and faculty input, conversations with divisional deans, budget priorities and planning, awareness of current issues and concerns, and consideration of impacts on admissions and recruitment are but a few of these influences, and it is hard to say if any one thing is more important than another. This change was in the planning stages well before the December announcement,” Niestat wrote in an e-mail.

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