Graduate Assistant Competition Salaries – The Independent Florida Alligator

UF offered graduate assistants their first pay raise in 5 years. It was less than a $1,500 raise.

UF’s offer came after a seven-month negotiation period, which included two extensions. The offers give graduate assistants a raise of around $100 per month – those with 12-month contracts will see a raise from $21,333 to $22,753 and those with 9-month contracts will see a raise of $16,000 to $17,000. The graduate assistants’ union said the offer was unacceptable.

Gainesville has seen inflation since the last graduate student salary increase in 2017, said Bryn Taylor, a 25-year-old rehabilitation science graduate student and GAU’s new co-chair. National inflation, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, reached 8.3% in 2022.

UF’s offer, Taylor said, does not take into account that increase.

In a survey conducted by UF GAU, 72% of graduate student respondents said they were unable to cover all living expenses. Taylor said many graduate students have families that cannot be supported by current or proposed salaries, and international students are not allowed to obtain work visas to find off-campus employment.

She said UF ignored quantitative data on what its graduate assistants should be paid. Anything less than $25,000, she said, is effectively a pay cut.

“Living on $17,000 or $22,753 in Gainesville right now is pretty much impossible,” Taylor said.

About 50 people marched from Union Reitz to Tigert Hall on Tuesday to protest the wage proposal. Flyers, bicycles and skateboards in hand, they chanted “Underworked, underpaid, five best schools, five best salaries.” GAU members also protested in April when the UF demanded a second three-month bargaining extension.

Jennifer Perez, a first-year materials science student, joined the march after passing through the Reitz.

“UF is a top five school,” Perez said, “and it’s embarrassing to see that.”

Near Tigert Hall on the sidewalk along SW 13th Street, the crowd chanted “One, two, three, four, no one should be a working poor. Five, six, seven, eight, we’re the lowest paid in the state.

Antonios Kyriazis, a 23-year-old doctoral student in physics, said his work as an instructor and graduate researcher amounted to more than 20 hours per week, as stated in GAU’s collective bargaining contract with UF.

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Kyriazis said that 20 hours does not include administrative work, required office hours, time spent designing the course, and time spent completing their own schoolwork.

“It’s very difficult to maintain a good work-life balance,” he said.

Although he feels lucky to have a good relationship with the adviser who oversees him, Kyriazis said it’s not uncommon for that relationship to deteriorate, making the job of some graduate assistants even more difficult.

It’s cheaper to drop out and enter the workforce than to continue working at UF, according to Merideth Miska, a 36-year-old master’s geology student and co-chair of GAU. Miska said she gave up going to the doctor because of her low salary, but continued teaching because she was passionate about her work and her students.

“UF does not listen to us as a whole. We are a large group of employees, a large group of students,” Miska said. “We do so much work in the classrooms, work in their labs, and they don’t listen to us.”

Abby Held, a 24-year-old physical chemistry graduate student, said she was guilty of accepting an instructor position for Intro to Chemistry in the fall of 2021. Held said UF told her that she was the best replacement after the previous instructor graduated.

Held said she felt she couldn’t say no. She took the job for the good of the 325 students in the class, she said, but it hurt her mental health and her studies.

“I had panic attacks at least once a week,” Held said.

She dropped her spot in a graduate bioinformatics course in the first week of fall 2021 to pursue the position. She also dropped out of a course on special topics related to her research in the spring of 2022, as she again taught introductory chemistry.

In the end, she said, it wasn’t worth the money.

“If they want me to take on additional responsibilities that a regular graduate assistant wouldn’t normally have to take on,” she said, “I would like to at least be able to afford to eat three times a day.”

UF first declared its offer final on April 29, but one of UF’s labor attorneys, Ryan Fuller, recently signaled he was still open to negotiations. The next trading session will take place next week and the trading period will continue until June 28th.

The disconnect between graduate assistants and the university, said Corey Bussiere, a graduate of the UF Counselor program and former graduate student teacher, is at the root of the problem. He said low graduate student salaries aren’t unique to UF — it’s a nationwide problem.

“I don’t understand superiors and superiors don’t understand the way we do things,” he said.

Taylor said GAU plans to use every second of next month to fight for a living wage.

“We urge UF to return to the bargaining table to invest in graduate students and give us the minimum stipend increase we deserve,” she said Tuesday.

Contact Sandra McDonald at smcdonald@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @sn_mcdonald.

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