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UI grad students rally for raise

BY ARIANA WITT | FEBRUARY 08, 2011 7:10 AM

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Sarah Eikleberry stood in a circle of roughly 30 University of Iowa graduate students Monday, leading her fellow union members in a firm chant.

“Chop from the top,” Eikleberry shouted. “Chop from the top.”

The UI teaching assistant in health and sports studies helped to lead a rally Monday amid red-and-blue signs painted boldly with one request: that the UI pay 100 percent of graduate students’ tuition.

“We want the university and the regents to know that we’re a strong base, and all the things we’ve asked for are within reason,” Eikleberry said.

The Campaign to Organize Graduate Students at the UI is in closed bargaining with the UI Graduate College and state Board of Regent officials, negotiating for a 100 percent tuition scholarship and a 4 percent raise.

Currently, 99.4 percent of tuition is covered.

Graduate-student tuition at the UI is slated to increase 5 percent for teaching assistants in the 2011-12 year under a proposal to the state Board of Regents.



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The students held the rally on the south side of the Pentacrest facing the University Capitol Centre, where they continued their bargaining Monday night. The protest is part of a traditional show of solidarity, said COGS President Kari Thompson.

Though the three groups have been in negotiations since November, Thompson said UI and regent officials have not yet discussed money with the graduate students. Contracts must be signed by March 15 but will likely be completed by the end of the month.

John Keller, the dean of the Graduate College, said university officials have a better understanding of what state appropriations will be following Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal to cut 6 percent from the fiscal 2012 budget.

But things remain uncertain in terms of exact funding, he noted.

“I want what’s best for the students, but I want to do so in a frame that’s good for the university,” Keller said. “Unfortunately, we’re still in very uncertain times.”

Regent Robert Downer said he believes the uncertainty will need to be taken into consideration before the COGS contract is completed. It’s not unreasonable to think the contract may not include the suggested raise, he said.

“We have to look at those things as a part of an overall package and see how we can make the dollar stretch,” Downer said.

Some local lawmakers said they understand the value of graduate students.

“I think our graduate student teachers provide a very important function to the education of students on campus,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. “We’ll do all we can do to ensure we have competitive salaries for our students.”

While COGS members shouted a demand of “fair contracts” in Iowa City on Monday, UI Carver College of Medicine students were lobbying at the State Capitol in Des Moines, proposing a possible four-year cap on medical-school tuition.

Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, the head of the House Education Committee, met with the students in Des Moines on Monday. State officials should do everything possible to ensure professional education is affordable for students, he said.

But Annah Vollstedt, a second-year UI medical student, said she doesn’t think the tuition cap would be possible if state funding continues to decline.

“I think we need to fund the regents as much as possible so that the university doesn’t have to increase tuition as a way to get money,” she said.


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