Graduate assistantship positions at UCM are required to go through a justification process if they don’t generate revenue, due to budget cuts.
The department chairs and faculty fill out a justification form that gets reviewed by the Office of Graduate Education and Research, then sent to the office of Mike Godard, interim provost-chief learning officer.
Teaching assistants or auxiliary positions generate revenue, so they are waived. An auxiliary position means those that are self-containing, for example, some housing positions and the book store generate revenue outside of academics.
Any other GA position risks becoming an undergraduate position or a GA position would be paid hourly and no longer include stipend or tuition waiver benefits.
“There is a big cost difference between the two, because paying someone an hourly wage to do a specific task for a job as compared to a GA position, which pays a stipend to an individual, but in addition to that it covers tuition as well,” Godard said.
Godard said he’s approved all of the positions he’s gotten so far sent to his office. He said he’s been getting about two to five forms every week.
“I’ve approved some. I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, OK so don’t get me wrong on this but as of yet, the ones that I’ve received, I’ve not denied any of them,” Godard said.
Godard predicts that 30 to 50 GA positions might be converted to an undergraduate position or a GA hourly-work position.
He said the GA hourly-work positions could range from $10 to $15 per hour, depending on the position.
“I’ve had several roll in this week,” he said. “As long as there’s a justification and it’s there in which it’s going to help serve our students in one way, shape or form.”
Scott Lankford, director of graduate education and research, said he does not believe anyone on campus wants to remove funding from graduate assistants.
“However, in order to meet the demands of the current budget, all aspects of the university are impacted. I believe the changes associated with GA positions are designed to provide the same number of students with meaningful opportunities that offer fair compensation to facilitate their education,” he said. “I will also add that historically UCM has benefited from a disproportionately large number of GA lines compared to other campuses and many campuses already split their GA lines into stipend plus tuition/fee or stipend-only GA opportunities, so these changes will not make us out of step with other campuses.”
Arthur Rennels, the communication department head, said in the communication department last year, they had to lose three GAs due to budget cuts.
“After the review, I don’t know how many graduate assistants we’ll have versus graduate workers,” Rennels said. “We’ve had to go through the same things submitting for the waiver…it’s to clarify that they’re, you know, in the classroom more significantly contributing to student engagement.”
Rennels said these changes might make an impact on the graduate students coming to UCM.
He said they have 40 graduate students in their program, and right now there’s 11 graduate assistantships. He said those 30 students are here because of the graduate program, not just the GA position opportunities.
“Will it make a difference? Probably in some recruiting,” he said. “It could. We’ve had a couple of students come here from places like Arizona and Mexico, other states, simply because we were able to grant them a graduate assistantship. So, we’re just going to have to be more judicious with it.”
He said if the department does lose the graduate assistantships to hourly-worker positions, it’s still a position they can offer, so graduate students will still be interested in coming to UCM.
“Something’s better than nothing,” he said.
Lankford said there are already some GA students switched to this model.
“The students that have these higher paid hourly positions are performing very rewarding tasks that are in line with their field of study. To me, if we end up with a system that provides fair and helpful resources to help the same number of students grow and afford graduate education, we will have done the best we could in the face of the budget situation,” he said. “Of course this will affect current and future students, but our hope is that thoughtful change will still keep the goal in reach. This could also affect recruitment of top students into our graduate programs, but we are actively trying to offset that with other value added programing, creative program design and recruitment efforts.”
Stephen Jackson, a graduate assistant for the communication department, teaches two courses and is the primary instructor. His position generates revenue, but he said these considerations are a bad idea.
“I think anything that removes potential grad students’ funding is not helpful in the current environment…That poses the question of, ‘OK, now do we make that person maybe try to get them helping a professor with grading so that they are attached to revenue on top of all their duties already, so they can save the position?’”
Jackson said because of the proposed reorganization of the universities’ colleges from four to three, the communication department might not bring back as many teaching assistants regardless of the decisions.
“With that going on, on top of everything else, I would say there’s a lot of people that should be very, very nervous about whether they’re going to get their position,” he said. “It may be that they only fill so many of us back after. They may only be allowed to have…five of us up here now, they may only bring back four. I don’t know what their plan is for any of that.”
Brenton Mitchell, a graduate student in the communication department, is a teaching assistant for Public Speaking.
“I think regardless any way you look at it, if you’re getting rid of those positions, less people are going to actually attend graduate school at UCM,” Mitchell said. “Which therefore means that education suffers because people aren’t able to further their education.”
Dustin Davis, a graduate teaching assistant in the department of nutrition and kinesiology and president of the Graduate Student Association, said he feels that graduate positions are viewed as dispensable.
“This is saddening because these positions are critical opportunities to help students bridge the gap between undergraduate study and engagement in Master’s coursework,” he said. “For many students, graduate education is otherwise unaffordable without assistance.”
Davis said as a body, it’s important that GAs communicate their concerns and responsibilities with upper level administrators.
“GA’s must make faculty and administrators aware of their importance at the department and campus level,” he said. “Furthermore, it is critically important that graduate assistants make genuine attempts to fulfill each of their assigned duties. GA positions should not be viewed as a free education. We have work to do.”
Godard said if there are graduate students who are in their first year of graduate studies and came to UCM with the expectation they were going to have a graduate assistantship, they will be grandfathered in.
“Any student who currently has a GA position, we are committed to ensuring that those continue,” he said. “These would just be for new potential student GAs starting in the fall of 2018.”
Godard said the administration is not planning a forum for graduate assistants.
“We are not planning a GA forum at this point,” Godard said. “We are not looking to remove current GAs from their positions as a part of this waiver process. The waiver request would only be for those GA positions that would be looking to fill with a ‘new’ graduate student.”
The Office of Graduate Education and Research can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 660-543-4729 for more questions or concerns for graduate assistantships.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story sourced the Department of Communication to have 30 graduate assistantships. The updated version corrects the number of graduate assistantships to 11.