The College of Arts and Sciences will change compensation and cut health care for some of its graduate workers starting in fall 2023, according to a tweet from the Indiana Grad Workers Coalition-United Electrical Workers. The tweet showed an email from Amrita Myers, director of graduate studies for the Department of History, sent to graduate students in the department on Jan. 23.
Graduate students affected by the change are students pursuing a terminal Master of Arts degree, the highest achievable degree in their field, in the College of Arts and Sciences who were hired as course assistants.
According to the email, for the last few months the College of Arts and Sciences has been reconsidering who can be classified as a Student Academic Appointee, as well as how things like fee remissions and health insurance will be handled. SAAs are part time workers required to work 15-20 hours per week and includes health insurance and a college fee remission, which typically covers more than 90% of the cost of tuition and fees.
According to the email, the decision to cut compensation and health care was made last week out of financial necessity. The College of Arts and Sciences is reclassifying some graduate workers from SAAs to hourly workers with partial fee remissions and no health care.
Myers said in an email to the IDS the affected graduate workers will be paid $25 per hour and cap fee remissions will be reduced to six credit hours per semester.
The cuts will move forward despite disapproval from the College of Arts and Sciences chairs and directors of graduate studies, according to the email sent to IDS. The directors of graduate studies have expressed strong opposition since the beginning, including last week when the change was announced.
“This type of erosion and casualization will not only hurt students but weaken the academic community at IU,” IGWC-UE said in a statement released on Twitter.
The IGWC-UE said there are issues with paying graduate workers in the College of Arts and Sciences differently for doing the same work as other graduate workers. The group said the decision “blatantly devalues the labor performed by students and faculty across the college.”
The IGWC-UE was formed in 2019 to fight for improved working conditions for graduate workers. It began pushing for union recognition back in fall 2021 after organizing a strike in March 2021, but the IU Board of Trustees has continuously refused to recognize the union.
In August 2022, IU’s administration announced a series of policy changes, including a 46% increase in the minimum stipend for SAAs and waiving mandatory graduate student fees.
In September, they announced they are waiving the fee for international students as well as giving short-term sick leave to SAAs and providing them with insurance during approved leave. This was seen as a win for IGWC-UE, but now some graduate students will no longer qualify for some of these benefits.
In a statement sent to the IDS, the IGWC-UE said it condemns the decision as a violation of the rights of graduate workers. It said every graduate worker has the right to fair compensation and benefits.
“Once again, the Indiana University administration has proven that graduate workers are seen as expendable resources rather than workers who are essential in running the university,” the IGWC-UE said in the statement. “Until our union is recognized, these attacks against graduate worker's rights will continue to erode the undergraduate learning experience and reputation of Indiana University.”