The University of Hawaii, like universities everywhere in the US, has been facing major cuts. There seems to be zero support for higher education in this country, and every legislature sees a way to save their favorite perk for the rich by carving more dollars out of the university budget. Only now the cuts are reaching vital organs … like the faculty and students. One symptom is the abuse of graduate students.
Grad students in Hawaii are working under the very same salary they would have received over a decade ago, which is ridiculous. Pay at the university must adjust to circumstances, or you’re just building up to kill the institution.
One good corrective step is to give grad students the power to unionize and demand reasonable wages. The state legislature passed a bill to allow exactly that, but the governor now plans to veto it — Christie Wilcox gives a good summary of the situation.
This is nuts. I don’t even understand the logic behind refusing employees this basic right, so I thought I’d go looking for the other side of the story. And I found this nice article that, among other things, quotes UH Provost Linda Johnsrud extensively, explaining why the university opposes the legislation. Let’s take a look at their reasoning, shall we?
“Graduate assistants are unlike any other employees,” she wrote in testimony to the House labor committee. “They are students first, and employees second. Graduate assistants are student learners. They are at the university to learn as much about their fields of study as their time and talents will allow. A graduate assistantship is not a career or profession, but most similar to an on-the-job training or apprenticeship program.”
Oh. So the university is doing grad students a favor; they aren’t providing essential services, they are receiving them. That’s easy to test: then the university would be able to continue without interruption or decline in services if the grad students all went on strike.
No? The grad students teach most of the lab and discussion sections? You don’t think you can just insist that the tenured faculty instead teach all 10 sections of that introductory biology lab? Then I guess it’s a bit misleading to try and rank their roles. That responsibility as teaching employees is essential, essential to the university. Perhaps you shouldn’t denigrate their importance while dismissing their rights.
Furthermore, she testified, graduate assistants already receive hefty benefits for their work in the form of tuition waivers, and have also been protected from the same salary cuts other faculty members experienced in recent years.
That’s right. Graduate students are paid so little that part of their compensation involves not demanding that they pay for the privilege of working there. You barely pay them enough to feed, clothe, and house themselves, and you want credit for not also demanding that they pay up $34,000/year. Interesting.
It’s quite a racket. Your defense of low wages is that we’re supposed to imagine they’re benefitting by not being billed for being at the university. Try that with the faculty: tell them they’re getting a raise of $15,000/year (I assume they’re all residents of the state), but they’re also going to have to pay $15,000/year for getting all that classroom time.
And OMG, the students have been
protected from the same salary cuts other faculty members experienced in recent years? 1) I’m faculty at a university, so that argument gets no charity from me, and 2) telling us that you could be paying them even less is going to get no charity from the students.
“Even in the current fiscal climate, we have not precluded increase wages for graduate assistants,” she wrote, while other employees dealt with salary cuts — albeit with back pay for the years their salaries were reduced.
That’s amazing doublespeak. The university could increase wages, they haven’t ruled it out completely, they just haven’t ever increased wages. Give ’em credit for being able to maybe do something while not doing anything!
The cost implications of allowing graduate assistants to unionize could be huge for the state, she said. Under the current proposal, hours, conditions of employment and fringe benefits would all be subject to collective bargaining — in addition to the tuition waiver graduate assistants already receive, which can range from $458 to $725 per credit hour for residents and $1,116 to $1,381 per credit hour for non-residents.
Paying students what they deserve and need would cost the university more money! Shock horror! Yes, it would. The university is providing a service to the state and has the responsibility of supporting the execution of that service — and further, I would add, this is an obligation of the state government which, as is the case in so many states, the government is neglecting. Provost Johnsrud needs to stop trying to gouge coverage for their deficits out of the skins of their grad students, and instead confront the cowardly skinflints and ideologues of the legislature and get them to do their job.
That job is to provide for adequate educational opportunities for the citizens of your nation and state. Arguing for devious ways to undermine that educational mission and failing to provide that support means the problem is all yours.
Not the graduate students who are freakin’ doing the work.
I guess I didn’t find Provost Johnsrud’s argument at all persuasive. Maybe she should instead try supporting the labor rights of the employees at her institution — after all, she’d be out of a job herself if the grad students gave up on the place.