The sit-in started last Wednesday. Since then, at least six English teaching fellows had occupied the reception area of UH Chancellor Renu Khator’s office at any one time.
Today, Khator, who had been on leave for the last 10 days, met with the teaching fellows and agreed to allocate an additional $1 million to the departments to raise the wages of those graduate students who teach the UH core curriculum.
Conor Bracken, a first-year grad student in poetry, says he’s happy with the administration’s decision.
“Today they demonstrated an incredible amount of attention and compassion for the welfare of students both undergraduate and graduate, and by engaging in negotiations so quickly and reaching ultimately a pretty strong decision regarding them. It’s just incredible and really reassuring.”
Teaching fellows make between $9,000 and $11,000 a year, depending on their degree. They are expected to teach 20 hours per week besides working toward their graduate or PHD degrees.
Jameelah Lang, a third-year creative writing PHD student, says the wages hadn’t even been adjusted to inflation.
“If those numbers were adjusted for inflation, PHD students would make $17,848 per year and MFA students would make $15,298. And we’re also having fees taken out of our salaries as well as health insurance, and when all this is taken out, we’re situated well below the poverty line.”
She says many students have had to break their contracts by taking on extra jobs in order to earn enough money to make ends meet.
Robert Boswell, a professor at the Department of English, says he has lobbied on behalf of the teaching fellows for a long time.
“We have as a faculty tried to argue using the proper university channels to get these graduate students a raise. We’ve been making this argument for at least a decade.”
In a written statement, Chancellor Khator says she’s sympathetic to the teaching fellows’ concerns and that “A Tier One university must value its talent, in faculty, staff and students, and must commit to best practices in providing a competitive learning and working environment for students on campus.”
In addition to allocating $1 million to address teaching fellows’ wages, Khator wants to establish a university-wide task force to support teaching assistants and fellows.
How the money will be used exactly will be up to the deans of the different departments.