Wednesday, June 26

GSA demands increased graduate student support from the UC

The graduate student government voted at its meeting Wednesday night to send a letter to University of California President Janet Napolitano demanding that the UC increase its support of graduate students.

The letter calls for the UC to increase stipends for graduate student teaching assistants, researchers and fellows. It also calls for UC officials to reduce or eliminate the amount of extra tuition fees for international students.

Graduate students who are not residents of California must pay about $5,000 more per quarter than graduate students who are California residents. While domestic students can gain California residency after a year, the extra fees are waived for international students only after they become Ph.D candidates.

The letter also asked UC officials to eliminate the 18-quarter limit that graduate students can work as teaching assistants and give tuition relief to graduate students who obtain external funding.

“There is concern that we are losing talented graduate students because we can’t offer them the financial peace of mind that other schools can,” said Nicole Robinson, president of the Graduate Students Association, who supports the letter.

GSA Vice President of Academic Affairs Cody Trojan proposed sending the letter to Napolitano earlier this quarter. Trojan said he wrote the letter based on recommendations from other members of GSA and a report the UC Academic Council adopted in June 2012.

The report, called the Report of the Taskforce on Competitiveness in Academic Graduate Student Support, drew its findings partially from a 2010 survey of graduate students.

A graduate student’s net stipend is the total compensation a graduate student receives from teaching assistant salaries, research or fellowships, minus the tuition paid by or for the student. In 2010, the annual net stipends offered by the UC were about $2,700 less than the net stipends offered to students at other top non-UC institutions, such as Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Harvard University, according to the report.

In fall 2013, about 1,800 graduate students held teaching assistant positions at UCLA, about 1,700 held graduate student researcher positions, and about 500 held positions as readers and tutors, said Robin Garrell, vice provost for Graduate Education and dean for the Graduate Division. The numbers fluctuate every year depending on funding.

“Faculty and administration are working together to provide the best packages,” Garrell said. “The entire campus values having such outstanding graduate students attracted to campus.”

Some graduate students said that they have struggled to afford living in Los Angeles on their current stipends.

The UCLA Financial Aid Officeestimates that the annual living expenses for off-campus graduate students not including tuition fees or health insurance – are about $21,200, and about $13,400 for commuter students.

International students are particularly impacted by non-competitive offers because they or their universities must pay extra tuition costs, according to the report.

Zsuzsa Magyar, an international political science graduate student from Hungary, said she found the financial package that UCLA offered her uncompetitive compared to similar packages other schools offered.

Magyar said she can only afford UCLA because she received a $5,000fellowship from the UCLA Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies on top of her teaching assistant salary, which pays about $1,900 per month.

“I can understand that some students wouldn’t come to (the) UC because of the compensation,” Magyar said. “I was lucky I got the fellowship.”

Some students said they think UCLA is a competitive school because of the quality of its education, despite the smaller compensation packages it may offer.

Andy Xu, an economics graduate student, said he chose to come to UCLA because of its high ratings among other universities, even though the stipends at UCLA were among the lowest he was offered.

Xu said that the payments he received as a teaching assistant are sufficient to support his monthly living expenses, and he thinks graduate students should not expect to make a lot of money.

The push for higher graduate student stipends is a UC-wide effort.

The UC Student-Workers Union, Local 2865 of the United Auto Workers, is currently in negotiations with the UC Office of the President to set new academic student-employee salaries. Trojan is one of the union’s representatives from UCLA.

As part of the negotiations, the UC Office of the President proposed a 4.5-percent wage increase over three years, but the union has countered with a proposal for more competitive wages, according to a press release from the UC Office of the President dated Oct. 8.

The UC Office of the President declined to provide specifics on the current offer as negotiations with the union are currently underway, said UC spokeswoman Shelly Moren.

Several professors at other UC schools have signed and sent a letter to their deans to increase the wages of teaching assistants, Trojan said.

Jeffrey Lewis, chair of the UCLA Department of Political Science, said he signed a similar letter at UCLA. Lewis said he thinks that as competitor schools increase their fellowships, teaching assistant salaries at the UC become comparatively less competitive.

Trojan said he plans to send out the GSA letter by Monday.

Contributing reports by Amanda Schallert, Bruin senior staff.

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