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UW-Madison delays changes to teaching pay for grad students

After several weeks of advocacy work by the University of Wisconsin–Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association, the administration agreed to delay implementation of a plan to restructure graduate student pay on campus.

The plan, which only came to light a few weeks ago, was developed behind closed doors with no graduate student input.

Implementation of the plan has been delayed until 2017, but continues to represent a breach of the university’s promise to honor the TAA labor contract after the passage of Act 10, according to the TAA.

Earlier in November, outside Bascom Hall on the campus, the TAA set forth a list of demands in response to the graduate school’s proposed restructuring of pay:

• In order to provide a more livable standard for all graduate workers and bring the university in line with peer institutions, provide a pay raise for all graduate workers campus-wide.

• For the sake of transparency and openness, the current proposal must be scrapped and the graduate school must work in conjunction with graduate students to find a solution that works for all graduate workers.

• For the sake of democracy and shared governance, the graduate school must provide a seat at the table with real power for graduate workers.

• The administration must respect our position as workers on campus and the value we create for the university.

“This proposal would force individual departments to decide how much we’re worth, who is worth more, and who deserves a higher wage. Department heads, faculty, and administrative staff would be forced to turn to private donors to make sure graduate workers are being paid at amounts that don’t even meet a basic standard living wage,” said TAA co-president Sergio González.

He continued, “We’ve got some of the smartest graduate students in the world working at this university. I invite all of you to join the TAA in proposing an alternative pay structure that is fair, equitable, and just, and that represents what is best for our university, its workers, and all of its students. The university must scrap this proposed pay restructuring and bring graduate student workers to the table so that together we can find a solution to ensure that the University of Wisconsin–Madison continues to be an elite institution committed to shared governance and world-class teaching and research.”

Adria Brooks, a TAA member and a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, said, “If we allow policies to be passed that kill equal pay for equal work, then whenever the College of Engineering, my college, brings in multi-million dollar industry grants to improve undergraduate studies, the language departments tasked with educating the associated increase in engineering students needing to fulfill their general education requirements may not be able to fairly compensate their graduate teaching assistants for this work.”

Concerned about the effect the new proposal will have on departments across campus, Brooks said, “When the administration pushes through policy changes like this, without graduate student input, it marginalizes traditional, non-grant based departments, but most importantly, it impinges on the world-class education we promise to our undergraduate students: of course we are in favor of pay raises. Of course we do not want esteemed faculty, students, and funding opportunities to bypass the University of Wisconsin for other institutions. But we want these things because they benefit all disciplines, not just a few.”

The TAA is the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States. Graduate student workers perform nearly half of all the instruction that takes place at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, while also taking classes and conducting research, according to the TAA.

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