Graduate students draft bill of rights

Nicole Cobler

The Graduate Student Assembly is drafting a bill of rights requiring a baseline minimum stipend to help graduate students cope with the cost of living.

Currently, there is no baseline stipend set, but graduate students — who are employees of the University — are generally entitled to a tuition-reduction benefit. This benefit pays for part or all of the student’s tuition, according to John Dalton, assistant dean of graduate studies.

Graduate student teaching assistants, assistant instructors and some graduate research assistants qualify for the tuition-reduction benefits, as well as stipends.

Dalton said there is no standard amount employees can be paid because it varies between schools, departments and faculty members.

GSA President Columbia Mishra said in many cases the monthly stipends are below the poverty line for Travis County. According to a 2013 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty threshold for a single person under the age of 65 is an annual salary of $12,119. 

“A baseline minimum stipend can help the students cope with the cost of living and help reduce the financial stress associated with graduate school,” Mishra said.

Mishra said the first draft of the GSA bill of rights has about three dozen policy changes. 

Jaime Puente, GSA student affairs director and an author of the bill of rights, said the amount of tuition-reduction benefits has gone down in recent years. Puente said in his four years at the University he has had to pay about $400 every year.

The document also addresses graduate students working much more than the original limit of 20 hours.

The University’s conditions for student employment states no on-campus position, academic or non-academic, can exceed 20 hours per week during the first two long semesters and 30 hours during subsequent semesters. 

According to Puente, these work hours are not consistently regulated. 

“We’re getting paid this much for 20 hours a week when we actually have to work 30-40 hours a week on top of maintaining our status as graduate students,” Puente said.

Mishra said she hopes to sit down with university officials to review the draft in the near future.

Pathik Joshi, urban design graduate student and architecture teaching assistant, said he was surprised by the stipend he received compared to other graduate students. He said receives approximately $700 a month after taxes. According to Puente, graduate student employees in the architecture school are among the lowest paid teaching assistants at the University.

“There should be a baseline,” Joshi said. “$700 a month is not enough to pay the rent and live comfortably.”