GAU bargains for better benefits

Graduate students and administrators are debating whether all graduate assistants (GAs) should get free tuition in exchange for teaching classes.

Graduate Assistants United (GAU) met with University administrators Thursday to renegotiate this and other details of their contract, set to expire at the end of the spring semester.

Graduate assistants (GA) and members of United Faculty of Florida (UFF) were particularly concerned with how GAs are hired, how they are fired, and whether they should get benefits such as health insurance.

Ed Mitchell, executive director of UFF, was determined to secure a contractual commitment from the University to GAs for contract security and benefits.

“The University is recruiting graduate students, talking to them about being a GA with a stipend and tuition waivers. What we’ve seen over the past year is that students have been told, ‘we can’t pay your tuition or benefits,'” he said.

Associate Provost Kofi Glover emphasized the importance of graduate students to the University’s mission, though many have felt disrespected during the negotiating process.

“Students were told a week before finals that their funding was being reduced and that they had to sign paperwork within three days agreeing to it,” said Jason Simms, co-president of the GAU.

GA contracts are made on a semester-by-semester basis. One of GAU’s main requests was that longer contracts be given to GAs.

“Longer contracts would give GAs a better sense of security and ultimately allow them to do better work without the stress and uncertainty of what will happen the following semester,” Simms said.

The GAU was also concerned with the consistency of tuition waiving. In order to be appointed to an assistantship, GAs must take a minimum of nine credit hours. Once a student is considered full-time they are eligible for waived tuition. However, departments have been waiving only a portion of GAs’ hours, leaving individuals responsible for the remaining balance, according to the GAU.

While the GAU tried to negotiate for consistent waiving of all GAs’ tuition, recent budget cuts have made the administration weary.

“We are not in a position to automatically waive GAs’ tuitions this year. Adverse financial conditions can lead to the release of a GA or even a 10-year tenured faculty,” Glover said.

The GAU and the University did not reach an agreement over any of the disputed topics in the contract.

The next bargaining session will take place March 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the Student Services Building, Room 2070. Meetings are open to the public.