Support for Increased Stipends for Teaching Assistants

Editors’ note: The UW-Milwaukee Department of Spanish and Portuguese has recently urged the University’s administration to make increasing Graduate Assistant stipends an urgent priority in a letter that we share here, with permission. Several other departments, as well as our AAUP chapter, have joined with our colleagues in Spanish and Portuguese to argue for the urgent need to address this issue. Graduate Assistant stipends at UWM are particularly low. UWM’s 2030 Working Group on Graduate Student Support reported in February 2022 that based on the Oklahoma State Survey of Graduate Student Stipends, UWM Graduate Assistant stipends ranked third from the bottom in an anonymized ranking of 49 R1 and R2 universities, making UWM Graduate Assistant stipends likely the lowest of all R1 universities in the survey and lower than most R2 universities in the survey as well. The letter from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese (shared below) and the other letters that followed it present in detail the vital importance of this issue for departments and programs across the university. 

October 25, 2022
Dear Chancellor Mone and Interim Provost Gronert:

We would like to bring the issue of graduate student stipends to your attention, especially those of the Teaching Assistants (TAs) who are instructors of record for their language sections. Concerned about the low pay for graduate students in general, it is clear that the current pay rate (Fall 2022) for non-doctoral students (i.e. $27,500 full, $13,750 at 50%, and $9075 for 33%)i is not enough to keep up with the costs of rent, food, and other unavoidable expenses. After deductions, and with the cost of segregated fees, the net pay is insufficient to cover the average monthly rent in Milwaukee for a one-bedroom apartment, which hovers around $1000.ii Secure housing and access to food are necessities, and students should not have to be forced to make ends meet by having to take extra jobs and/or student loans. This is a quality-of-life issue for current graduate students, but it is also at the heart of making graduate education accessible for future cohorts.

As we look to the future, we implore the administration to recognize the diversification and democratization of graduate student access. Students from traditionally excluded demographic groups, first-generation students without access to generational wealth, and students who are supporting families should not be penalized for coming from less-affluent families. It is an issue of accessibility, equity, and support to achieve that on- going sustainability. Students who feel supported by the institution are students that continue to enroll. Furthermore, choosing to come to UWM, or any other school, for graduate studies should not be equated with poverty wages and the prospect of crushing student loan debt. For the visibility of our graduate programs as welcoming and supportive environments, and thus becoming a distinctively attractive choice for students, academically and financially, these stipends need to be significantly raised.

Finally, we must underscore the special role of TAs in the languages, as they teach full sections and are the instructor of record. These are instructors that are potentially creating new language majors—in our case, Spanish—and also playing a key role in the success and retention of freshmen students. The role of our TAs is highly valued yet inadequately compensated. As Justine Modica, a doctoral candidate at Stanford remarks, graduate students “do a great deal of the work that makes our universities’ research and teaching operations possible.”iii Therefore, we call on campus administration to work toward this crucial goal, and to confirm which steps are being taken to address this crucial matter.

The Faculty of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese


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