Along with their studies and the courses they proffer, graduate assistants at USF are getting some new optional seminars – optional, that is, if graduate assistants would like to keep their benefits.
On June 30, The Graduate School issued a memo to the faculty that said it was changing the minimum course load requirement for full-time graduate assistants from nine hours to 12 hours. Now grad assistants will have to take the mandated number of hours in order to get 80 percent of their tuition waived along with their health benefits. Two new seminars – which will not count toward a graduate assistant’s degree – are being offered as an option by The Graduate School to help students fulfill the requirement.
But the change is meeting resistance from some graduate assistants who say the additional course will affect their teaching and increase their already heavy workload.
“This is going to be a serious blow to graduate student quality of life on campus,” said Sarah Dykins Callahan, a third-year graduate assistant who is the organizing chair of USF’s Graduate Assistants United. Callahan added that of the 1,600 graduate assistants on USF’s campus, roughly 75 percent take only nine hours.
But Delcie Durham, the associate provost and the dean of The Graduate School, said the new requirement can benefit the students by helping them graduate faster and compete on the national level when they leave USF.
“One of the things we wanted to do was provide our graduate students with as much life-long education and career planning as we possibly can,” Durham said. “Twelve hours is becoming the national norm and we really want our students to be up there with the best in terms of being prepared and having advantages.”
MEET MARY POOLE
Mary Poole, who is in the final year of earning her doctorate in communication, said she took nine credit hours a semester as a graduate assistant for four years.
“It would have been impossible for me to take 12 credit hours and teach two or three classes a semester,” Poole said.
Although Poole is doing her dissertation this fall and will not be affected, her concern is for her colleagues.
“I think the other thing that’s disturbing is the rationale that’s been given, that it would make us more attractive in the work force, which is just bull-,” said Poole. “It’s beneficial to the University, not the graduate students.”
Poole has been critical of administration before. According to a Nov. 14, 2002 article in the Oracle, Poole claimed she was fired from her job in USF’s Human Resources department for her political views.
“The other reason they’re doing this is they just want the FTEs,” Poole said.
FTEs are full-time equivalent students, one of the factors that determine funding for a university in Florida.
“Because the University gets more money with more FTEs, it’s all about money,” Poole said. “It’s all about the fact that the education system is a business.”
GRAD SCHOOLS FOR ‘DUMMIES’
The Graduate School is offering two seminars – one in Professional Development and another in Research Practices – free of charge to students. Associate Dean of The Graduate School Brent Weisman said the courses will allow students from different disciplines to converse on the issues facing them and help them to be better students and professors.
“What does it mean to ethically conduct research? What does it mean to be an educator?” Weisman said. “All these issues that are out there on the national scene will be brought to the forefront in these classes, in such a way that should be – we hope – enjoyable and enhancing to the student – not a burden.
“But to do that means that we got to go from nine to 12, because we can’t intrude into the course outlines that have been developed by the program,” he said.
Weisman said the seminars were designed with the recognition of the amount of work graduate assistants already perform.
“(The) seminars that will be added on top of the existing loads for these students will be relatively non-intrusive,” Weisman said. “They’re not going to be required to turn in extra papers and do extra reading and tests and assignments like they might in another graduate course.”
Poole calls the class a “dummy class.”
“It’s simply a way of giving credits and it’s not going to be helpful,” Poole said. “There’s nothing to the course.”
Along with the effect the course will have on his teaching, third-year grad assistant Andrew Herrman has issues with the course.
“I think it’s a little disingenuous for them to say, ‘We want graduate students to get out of here faster, so we’re going to offer two courses that don’t count toward graduation,'” Herrman said.
Despite the cries of some graduate students, Weisman suggested there might be others who are pleased with the increase.
“There may be as many graduate students who look upon this as an opportunity to graduate sooner as there as are people who are fearing an overload,” Weisman said.
Weisman said he has done his best to answer grad assistants’ concerns and The Graduate School has put a link on its Web site to answer some frequently asked questions it’s come across.
Weisman said any courses taken over nine hours will be free for graduate assistants. The Web site states that any students who has signed a contract before Sept. 1 will not have to take the required 12 hours – although it is recommended.
Callahan said her group planned on challenging the new policy.
“We’re going to try to organize a petition,” Callahan said. “Prior to fall starting to see if we can’t get something done about this.”
Poole added that she doesn’t have “really any hope of change” – an outlook Weisman confirmed.
“It is launched. There can be some changes in direction, we hope there will be some productive revisions as we go forward and that every stakeholder in the process can have a chance to make productive revisions,” Weisman said. “However, the plan itself is in place.”
Although the additional hourly requirement isn’t going away, responses like Poole’s may be indicative of the reception it’s received from graduate assistants new and experienced.
“If in fact they were going to do this, it would have been nice to have some warning, to talk to the graduate students and have gotten some input,” Poole said. “None of that was done.”