This spring, the University announced changes to funding for competitive reading scholarships in which graduate students can teach a class for pay in addition to their graduate stipend. In previous years, the University has offered $5,000 to teach a quarter course as part of the lecture award. In March, the salary for award-winning lecturers was reduced to $2,000.
Graduate student and co-chair of Graduate Students United (GSU), Andrew Seber, who is part of the history department, was applying for the Von Holst Prize lecturer position when the University announced the funding change for the lecturer position. 36 hours before the application deadline. The speaker position was to pay $5,000.
“The University discourages people [from applying] prices because it is no longer worth the amount of work involved in teaching from the pulpit. It’s really embarrassing because it’s exploitation. We should actually be paid more for these lectures, but instead the University tried to say that all that extra money we were entitled to for our extra work is now something we should feel lucky to have said GSU Director of Communications Laura Colaneri.
This change came along with other changes to graduate student funding. In October 2019, the University of Chicago announced a new framework for doctoral programs in the Division of Social Sciences, Division of Humanities, Divinity School, and School of Social Service Administration. Part of this framework included a policy that would designate teaching through a doctorate. students as mentored teaching experiences (MTEs) rather than paid labor.
“For the past two years, the University has worked to insist that we are not University employees in direct response to our unionization,” Colaneri said. “Instead of saying we were paid for these jobs, [the University] started saying it was a “supervised teaching experience” which is part of their legal argument that we are trained and not doing work.
In June 2019, UChicago graduate students went on strike to protest the University’s refusal to negotiate a contract with GSU. In response to the protests, the University wrote in a letter to all University students that “unionization would fundamentally alter the decentralized, faculty-led approach to higher education that has long been a hallmark of factory of the University of Chicago”.
The letter also asserted that “…doctoral training has the greatest impact when professors work directly with students without a third party stepping in and defining those relationships.”
The new funding model was announced after thousands of graduate students went on strike across the country, many of them bargaining for higher salaries; Graduate students at Columbia University recently ended a 10-week strike after reaching a tentative agreement that guaranteed a salary increase for the doctorate. students. Stipends for graduate students in the United States range from approximately $9,000 to $60,000 per year; a psychology stipend at Portland State University pays $9,220, while a computer science stipend at the University of Massachusetts Amherst pays $62,000. The guaranteed minimum stipend for the Ph.D. students at UChicago is $31,000 per year.
The GSU believes that the new doctoral program framework is a direct response to the effort to organize graduate students.
“In 2019, after the union went on strike, there was a move by the University to severely limit the amount of teaching work graduate students were doing to protect against disgruntled workers who had too much job, so they started calling them mentees. Teaching experiences,” Seber said.
“I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that all this change has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of higher education, but [is] something advised by their attorneys to try to undo our organizing effort,” Colaneri said.
The new doctorate. The funding model also changed the number of hours graduate students are allowed to teach.
“[The University] really limits our ability to personalize our experiences here. That means we can’t take on extra work in order to earn extra money to make ends meet and we have less flexibility,” Colaneri said. “And that’s explicitly because they don’t want us to teach anymore. Each time we teach more, we do work, we are not trained. »
Seber noted that graduate funding cuts make it harder for low-income students to feel incentivized to teach college courses.
“The whole philosophy behind organizing graduate students in general is that when you actually have these high-paying jobs, you attract people who aren’t just wealthy to do the job,” Seber said.