Letters to the Editor

BY DI READERS | JANUARY 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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Reimburse graduate-student fees

I am writing in support of COGS’ movement to have graduate student fees reimbursed 100 percent. I am a full-time graduate student on a 50 percent appointment, and my salary is enough to subsist on, but it makes it unreasonably difficult to put any money aside for such things as conferences to enrich my professional development. While it is often possible to get financial support for conferences, it is also often the case that we as students must contribute a significant amount of money ourselves. This becomes increasingly difficult when we must pay back to the university nearly $1,000 of our salaries, per academic year, for fees, (and seemingly increasing every year).

Additionally, I had to pay $250 for an international-student orientation before beginning classes. I was also charged $70 for an “International Student Fee” in September, for which I was not able to get any explanation or reason for. It doesn’t make for a very nice welcome seeing a bill that large after moving from another country and paying all the costs associated with that. Graduate-student employees deserve to be paid fairly for their work without having to pay to work.

Todd Pruner

As a graduate student employee and member of COGS, I stand with my fellow graduate students in calling for 100 percent fee reimbursement for graduate student employees. Like many of my fellow students, I carefully considered funding packages and weighed the financial feasibility of attending graduate school before I enrolled. Because of the full tuition waiver I receive as part of my employment contract with the University of Iowa (and my Spartan lifestyle), I have been able to live within my means. However, I am concerned about the continuing expense of fees and the toll that they take on many graduate student employees. Fees allow the university to supplement tuition income, but they are not controlled in the same way that tuition increases are. As a result, fees can and have increased dramatically even when the Board of Regents agrees to freeze tuition for segments of the student body. Graduate student fees now stand at almost $1,000 per year for those of us taking a full course load, 12 percent of tuition charges. This is a small amount of money with respect to the university’s budget but can be a large financial burden for individual employees, many of whom have families and work additional jobs to pay for educational and living expenses. Fees should be fully covered along with the tuition waiver for graduate student employees. Anything less than full coverage allows the university to manipulate fees to undermine the benefits graduate student employees have fought for in the employment contract.

Sarah Raine

I came to the University of Iowa because I want to become a sociologist, to study the inequalities within the U.S. educational system. Ironically, rather than producing research that explores these injustices; most of my time is spent living it. Despite its very real and apparent inequalities, I fully believe and trust in the ability for educational institutions, like the University of Iowa, to serve as a source of empowerment for those most oppressed by its systems of power.

The UI is failing this mission for us all, but especially for graduate-student workers. Mandatory fees are a form of hidden tuition; an insidious method of circumventing previous contracts in order to continue increasing graduate student tuition without calling it so. I will not get into the details of how the neoliberal landscape has morphed universities across America, but if you need more information, perhaps you can contact our esteemed Board of Regents or their bedfellows at Deloitte Consulting.

We, graduate students, are workers of this institution, often putting more contact hours with the undergraduates than faculty. We are vital, yet one look at a graduate student’s U-Bill indicates otherwise. The regents and university are trying to push us out; those of us that are least able to financially survive in this precarious and increasingly privileged environment. As a fellow of the now eradicated Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship, aimed at providing opportunities to underrepresented students in academia, it is clear that the university does not care about my utopian quest for knowledge or my well-being.

I came to study how educational institutions reinforce an unequal society; below I have provided my most recent empirical results:

Total Fees Billed for Three Years: $3,632
Current Amount: $570.45

Full fees reimbursement now.

Harper Haynes

I am writing this brief note as part of a larger petition launched by COGS to state that I fully support the movement to reimburse graduate and teaching assistants for their student fees. I am personally responsible for instructing 70 students at the UI in two courses this semester, both of which I designed and lead solely on my own. It’s a heck of a lot of work, and while I don’t do it for the money, I feel I shouldn’t have to pay the university given how much I contribute to it through my time and efforts. I know many others at this level work just as hard and even harder, and I’m hopeful this petition leads to a reduction in what we have to pay to the institution we work very hard for, leading to its success.

Thanks for your time.

Brian Triplett

I am a graduate teaching assistant here at the University of Iowa. I work hard to create inclusive classrooms and engaging learning environments for my students. They learn to be critical thinkers and problem solvers right in front of my eyes. But, this is very hard to do on the tight budget I must keep every month. At the beginning of every semester, I face a U-Bill balance that totals over $400 in fees alone. Those mandatory fees go to administrative costs and the buildings I work in. The price of paying to work is too great, and the stresses of living in poverty hurt my ability to be the best instructor I can for my students. We must have 100 percent fees reimbursement now. My students’ education depends on it.

Cathryn Lucas-Carr

There are many reasons why the University should remove graduate student fees, and I’m sure many of my friends and colleagues will cover those reasons from the perspective of a graduate student. I agree with them and those are all very important reasons. Let me add another (assuming no one has made this point yet): Removing student fees for graduate students is a great long-term investment for the entire University.

Because COGS bargained over the years to get full tuition, pay, and health care benefits for graduate students, the University of Iowa has a competitive advantage when recruiting graduate students. Graduate students, while getting an education, contribute greatly to the research and teaching of this University. In short, the University works because we do.

The mandatory graduate student fees are now about the equivalent of a month’s pay. If graduate students don’t give back a paycheck to their employer, they can’t enroll, and won’t be allowed to work. This pay-to-work arrangement is a real problem, because among so many other things, it also undermines recruitment efforts. So not only does this practice hurt individual graduate students, it becomes a negative for top-notch students considering applying to Iowa for graduate school. This will have a long-term cumulative negative effect for departments, professors, and undergraduates across the University.

Shawn Harmsen

The discussion of fee reimbursement for graduate students at the UI has come to the fore in recent months. Beyond the obvious conclusion that graduate students should not have to pay to work, the university must understand that we demand 100 percent reimbursement NOW. Not a partial reimbursement, not phased in over time. But 100 percent NOW. Coming to this institution, I understood that part of my financial package (for which I do have enormous gratitude) included 100 percent tuition reimbursement. Despite the fine print regarding my own responsibility for mandatory fees, I was NOT prepared to forfeit nearly an entire paycheck (after the costs are deducted for insuring my and my son’s health) AND to have that cost INCREASE year after year. It is clear that the University must stop this insidious process and pay it back NOW.

Nicole Filloon

Graduate students at the University of Iowa need 100 percent fee reimbursement now in order to keep top candidates coming to Iowa City! I knew that pursuing my dream of earning a PhD in a highly regarded program with top-notch faculty would require some sacrifices. The sacrifices I expected to make included getting little sleep, limiting time with family and friends, and drastically reducing my annual salary. Even though as a graduate teaching assistant, I am regularly responsible for over 100 students per semester in terms of teaching discussion sections, grading, and holding office hours, I expected the low pay notorious among graduate assistants. I did not expect, however, that I would actually PAY to do this work. I have never worked in another job where I was required to purchase my own supplies, such as printing paper and ink, let alone pay almost $1,000 annually in fees from which I see no direct benefit. The impact of mandatory fees is even worse for quarter-
time appointed teaching and research assistants, as the cost is equivalent to each of them giving back over 10 percent of their annual salaries to the university as a condition of their employment. No one should have to pay to work.

Nicole Oehmen

Two years ago I was a broke undergrad who managed to survive on a part-time job, student loans, and a low tuition rate at a SUNY school in New York.

I’m still a broke student, this time at the graduate level. The privilege to work with students, broaden my own knowledge base, meet well established scholars in fields I’m both familiar and unfamiliar with are opportunities many are not able to enjoy.

Although the personal benefits are hard to quantify, the means necessary to fully engage in the rewarding, albeit challenging, realm that is higher education come at a high fiscal cost. The expectation is that academics-in-training will participate in meaningful dialogues outside their home institution; at conferences, during professional development workshops, doing off-site research, and attempting to publish their hard work. But when the cost of maintaining a livelihood at one’s home base far exceeds what one makes, it becomes a question of which bill can I sacrifice to afford a plane ticket? Can I feasibly take on a second job to replace the computer that contains all of my hard work? Will my students understand if my khakis are dingier than is appropriate for someone performing the role of teacher?

The UI can help mitigate the need to ask these kinds of questions by granting graduate students a full waiver on fees. I, like my colleagues, work hard for my students, and there is nothing else I’d rather do then help them to succeed. The UI can help us succeed, in all our endeavors, by reimbursing graduate students the fees they pay so that maybe, just maybe, we can attend one more conference, and not worry about whether we can afford the resources we need.

Rachel Walerstein

I am writing to explain why the UI should give graduate employees a 100 percent fee reimbursement. Implementing these “mandatory fees” undervalues the important work that I and many of my fellow graduate students do as teaching or research assistants. We are helping this university maintain its reputation as a top-notch institution, yet we are being treated unfairly. These exorbitant fees also place a significant financial strain on many of us who have already given up a lot to attend this institution. As a half-time research assistant, I was guaranteed a full tuition reimbursement and feel like it is being taken away quite underhandedly. The university should not take advantage of its graduate employees. I am asking the university to treat its graduate employees with fairness and respect. Full Fees Reimbursement Now.

Steph Rue

I am a graduate student in the UI Physics Department. Through a COGS’ investigation, we have found out that not only is the university using the fees from the graduate employees to subsidize debt services for ongoing university projects, but also that a large fraction of the total amount of money gathered by the university through fees is unaccounted for. Originally, student fees were branched from tuition under the specific title and reason that fees were to be used to foster student projects and services. After the university and COGS reached an agreement for a 100 percent tuition scholarship at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences level, fees remained an additional form of tuition not covered by the scholarship. The university should fulfil the commitment it made beginning with the tuition scholarship and agree to 100 percent fees coverage, in addition to providing transparency about where specifically the money collected though fees is being used.

Judah Unmuth-Yockey

Regarding the recent petition for graduate fee reimbursement I would like to say just a few things. We are technically paid for 10 to 20 hours of work each week, depending on if we have a 1/4 or 1/2 time appointment. My particular appointment, (a 1/4 time appointment), means that I am paid for 10 hours of work each week. Right now, my course load requires that I have exactly 10 hours of face to face contact/teaching with my students. As of now, this gives me NO time to prepare for these students or the classes.

They all have individual learning needs and some of them have issues that require a little more one on one help. At this point, we are denying our students any extra assistance because we don’t have it to give. And this is a disservice to the undergraduate population and also reflects poorly on my teaching abilities.

I have also, two out of the past three semesters, taught a half or one full hour OVER my appointment with no extra pay. The faculty are not to blame, because they are also over booked with their own teaching loads, but we should at least not have to pay to work. We are already paying for parking, books, living in a very expensive city, and the fees almost wipes out our entire pay check, leaving nothing for personal bills and other life expenses.

If we must pay the fees, we should be paid more. The living wage in Iowa City right now is $7.75/hour at a 40hour/week job. That would mean I would need to make $1,160 to be paid minimum wage. That is far from what we make pre-taxes and we do end up working about 25-30 hours per week to fill the needs of our students. I cannot in good judgement leave them without the educational help they need because it’s not in my contract. We also then have a very large class load on top of all the work we do for the university.

I realize that we are basically indentured servants, but they didn’t have to pay to work, if my history lessons serve me correctly.

Janet Brehm Ziegler

Although the UI is a public institution of higher learning, with the mission of educating the citizenry of the state, region, nation, and world, the administration and regents only seem to care about running it as a corporation by wringing as much money as possible from students, employees, and alumni with little regard to the overall mission of the UI and the people who make it. So, I offer some number from my experiences to demonstrate how wrong-headed they are in that respect.

Since the spring of 2013, I have taught or been the teaching assistant for 399 students making up 951 semester hours and 17,805 student-instructor contact hours, not including office hours, preparation time, or grading. This semester, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ tuition & fees for undergraduates taking 12 semester hours is about $336.63/hour for residents and $1,142.04/hr for nonresidents. Based on these numbers, and the UI’s statistics that 54.45 percent of undergraduates are residents, I “generated” $688,875.79 of revenue over that time — all while being paid less than poverty wages.

Each semester, I have to pay fees to be able to enter the buildings in which I teach (to help fulfill the important educational mission of this university) and generate this revenue (by providing opportunities for paying students to learn). It does not make economic sense, and it does not make ethical sense to make a worker pay to work, and because of this, I say we need Full Fees Reimbursement Now.

Matt Hodler

Why should professors, lecturers, and specialists who are supporting student development be laid off in order for universities to make up monetary costs brought by cuts? How are our fees being spent? These questions have been lingering in my mind since I started the graduate program here at UI. The main reason I chose UI over other schools was that I was promised a full tuition waiver, which I later found out that the ridiculously high mandatory “fees” we have to pay are just another name for tuition. Graduate employees at the University of Iowa provide two-thirds of all the undergraduate classroom instruction time and conduct research for very low pay. Money has become an issue for many graduate students, and some even joke about not having any money, only to learn that they are living below the poverty line, so they resort to extreme alternatives to save money such as skipping meals — that terrifies me. If the school is serious about keeping its prestigious reputation, then it is necessary to eliminate the fees that are hurting enrollments, graduate employees, and most importantly, quality of education.

Naoki Izumo

I am writing in support of COGS’ recent petition for 100 percent fees reimbursement for graduate employees in the University of Iowa. The reason is simple; here I quote, “We shouldn’t have to pay to work, and fees significantly contribute to the financial hardship of graduate students.”

Full fees reimbursement now.

Aiqi Liu

Graduate program applicants carefully compare offers from multiple institutions when deciding which to attend. The university has a vested interest in attracting the best and brightest to their departments, and guaranteeing free tuition is a strong incentive to prospective students. This guarantee is meaningless, however, if the university turns around and charges us 10 percent of our wages under the murky category of “fees.” This back-door tuition undermines the expectation of honesty that the student entered into when he or she decided to attend the University of Iowa and reflects poorly on the institution’s standards of conduct. UI should make efforts to repair the damages this policy does to its reputation among prospective students and the integrity of its relationship with current graduate employees.

Bailey Kelley

As a full-time doctoral student at the UI, I am writing to encourage the regents to waive all fees for graduate student employees.

This is my 11th year of postsecondary study, and throughout the last several years, I have witnessed hikes in graduate student fees. Like many others in my position, I have made financial sacrifices in order to pursue my education. It seems utterly ridiculous to me that the University asks graduate students already living near the poverty line to relinquish nearly half of their paychecks every August and January to pay for student fees. What does this mean for me? As a full-time student and mother, every last cent of my monthly paycheck is consumed by health insurance premiums and daycare costs. In August and January, I literally have to reconfigure my grocery lists in order to have enough money to cover my student fees. These fees also come with other hidden costs. Many students who have passed their comprehensive exams opt not to pursue additional coursework that could enrich their teaching and career prospects because they simply cannot afford to pay the fees attached to more credit hours. I have done this on two occasions. If the university wishes to provide its undergraduate population with outstanding experiences in the classroom, that mission begins with providing more for its teaching assistants. After all, we are responsible for more than 50 percent of the contact hours that undergraduates spend with instructors. In other words, I have likely spent more time interacting with undergraduate students than most of the faculty in my department. 

The bottom line is that we are providing the University of Iowa with a tremendous service. We are the backbone of undergraduate education and we deserve proper compensation.

Jennifer Heacock-Renaud

I am a graduate student at the UI, and I have signed the petition calling for full fee reimbursement for UI graduate employees, because graduate students are an asset to the university, and thus an asset to society.

I and my fellow graduate employees recognize that we also receive a wonderful opportunity from society, through the university, to pursue our studies in an environment and under an arrangement that not everyone gets to enjoy.

I would hope that it is obvious then that we are not asking for better terms out of greed, or simply to be adversarial. Rather, we ask for better terms out of a desire to be more effective in our studies, as well as our service as the point-of-contact for more student hours than any other position in the university. We are working towards our degree, and we are working for Iowa, and even for a greater community beyond state or national boundaries.

When we are faced with extraneous fees, when we are faced with tuition to be raised, when we are faced with living near poverty in order to meet these financial demands in some case, we will become less effective as scholars and as educators.

It is not enough to argue that we are “following the market” when we are hurting the ability of our university to provide a valuable service to the residents of Iowa who attend this institution. It is not enough to speak of “cost-effective” measures that will stretch our human and material resources thin.

Nor is it appropriate to defund higher education at the legislative level, thus ensuring that higher education becomes — once again — the domain of the wealthy, and those who indenture themselves to the wealthy by taking on debt.

Rather, we must all ask ourselves about the value students, graduate students, and society get out of a university like the University of Iowa. If we think of value, rather than cost-effectiveness, about investment rather than bottom-line, we must then address that saving money is no laudatory virtue in an of itself — unproblematically freeing the residents of the state from a “burden” — but might rather be a smokescreen to cover actions that reduce this university’s service to the state and its contribution to society.

Noah C.G. Johnson

Being a graduate student is not easy. Many of us teach, do research, go to class, take care of families and loved ones, volunteer in the community, and mentor undergraduate students above and beyond what is asked of us in our contracts. And many of us do all of this with a smile and without too much complaining. Because, for most of us this is what we have chosen to do. But we are not at all happy about the amount of fees we are required to pay. For the record we are asked to pay almost 10 percent of our salary as a condition of our employment! Where else do you know of where you are asked to pay back part of your salary in order to work? So why exactly are we so up-in-arms about the fees that we are asked to pay?

Well, part of it is that we would love financial security. We would be happier and (more importantly) healthier if we are given due compensation for the work we do so willingly. Having to pay nearly $450 every semester out of our already meager pay-checks represent a month’s rent, a doctor’s visit, a car payment, a cavity filling, money we can put towards our research, or two months worth of groceries that we don’t have anymore. That means more worry, less sleep and just a little bit shorter in patience when we have to interact with undergraduate students (Undergraduates … this should be important to you, too). We get it … we are not as important as the faculty, or the administration, or athletics, or middle management. We have been told that over and over again in many different ways. But it says something about the institution, when a large organization chooses to silence, oppress, and disenfranchise a group of people who have less power and a quieter voice.

And undergraduate students and faculty and the administration have to ask themselves that question … what does it say about Iowa as an institution?

Yes, the financial security would be great. But it is also the principle of it. The regents unanimously agreed to grant Sally Mason, our soon retiring president, a salary of $315,000 per year. They unanimously agreed to pay her that amount of money to never have any face-to-face contact with any undergraduate Iowa student. Meanwhile, Graduate students who account for the majority of face-to-face contact with the undergraduate students are asked TO PAY almost $1,000 in fees a year ($438 per semester). And when we asked the regents for a full reimbursement of our fees … that request was denied and we are having to fight tooth and nail for it. Ask yourselves Iowa community … what does that say about this institution’s values? Are you comfortable with that?

If not, whether you are a graduate student, and undergraduate student, faculty or administration do something about it. Let your thoughts count … write to the regents, write to The Daily Iowan, let your TA know that their work is valued and you are in solidarity with them.

Chenthuran Jayachandiran

Graduate employees at the University of Iowa should receive a 100 percent fee reimbursement. Teaching assistants, research assistants, and other appointed graduate students should NOT have to pay to work.

Reimburse graduate-employee fees.

Carolyn Colbrow

Currently, fees are being assessed on the salaries of cash-strapped graduate students many with families who are simply trying to survive and succeed in challenging academic programs often with heavy teaching loads. To charge fees for graduate student workers reduces the earnings of these students, diminishes their quality of life, and ultimately affects the climate at the UI. As a teaching assistant myself, I can speak to the fact that our financial circumstances affect our ability to provide for ourselves (and our families) and the negative consequences (skipping meals, taking on a second job, etc) bleed into our interactions with students and staff alike. Paying graduate students for their time only to take it back in the form of fees with unknown disposition makes it clear that the University of Iowa is unconcerned with the plight of its students already deep in debt in a degree-inflated job market with ever-limited opportunities. For these reasons and those presented by others, I strongly urge the UI community to join with COGS in support of 100 percent fee reimbursement for graduate employees.

Amanda Irish

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