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Graduate Assistants pursue negotiations amid budget cuts

Graduate Assistants United (GAU) is going through contract negotiations with the Graduate School for salary and insurance benefits.

Requirements for laying-off a graduate assistant were debated Wednesday afternoon. The contract allows a graduate assistant to be laid off with lack of sufficient funds as the reason. The GAU is asking to have this excuse stricken from the contract.

“It’s not a lack of funds, but a lack of willingness to propagate the services they’ve incurred. They’ve asked for them, they should pay,” said Michael Moats, the service unit director for United Faculty of Florida.

Jason L. Simms, co-president of GAU, said that graduate assistants can be laid off for other reasons, but that lack of sufficient funds is not a valid reason to be laid off.

“USF will not go bankrupt and close because of money spent on graduate assistants,” he said.

Cordell Chavis, a Student Government Senator, said that being laid off as a graduate assistant is not the same as being laid off from a standard job.

“You can’t just reapply to another school,” he said.

Delcie R. Durham, dean of the Graduate School, said that the recent budget cut has influenced what actions the Graduate School can take.

“We are in the midst of a budget cut now that will affect the Graduate School. We will be looking at laying people off,” she said.

Simms also said they want to achieve an equitable contract for graduate assistants. If the University has a better offer for graduate students to work as assistants, it would make it more attractive to applicants.

GAU hopes to achieve a contract parallel to those at Florida State University (FSU) and the University of Florida (UF).

“When you compare contracts between UF and USF, UF is a more attractive offer,” said Simms, citing that they offer more extensive health insurance.

Moats said the University has much control over GAU and their decisions directly impact them.

“The University is the sole decider for how many graduate assistants it needs, how much to fund, and which priority to fund,” he said.

GAU claimed that graduate assistants often find that decisions are made without their input.

“These decisions happen without consideration of what will happen to graduate assistants,” said Simms. “We’ve had enough.”

Associate General Counsel Gerard D. Solis said that the University might not be monetarily able to meet the demands of GAU.

“What I’m concerned about is the flexibility the University has in a time of crisis,” said Solis.

Simms explained that GAU understands the University must make sacrifices during a time of shortage, but that there are only 1,500 graduate assistants to employ. Since they are small, they should not be cut first.

Durham said that her responsibility is to get the best she can for the school, but that these budget cuts make many changes.

“It comes down to people, and it comes to down to the services we provide,” she said. “It comes down to reality. It’s a real challenge, it’s real money, and it’s gone.”