Graduate student concerns brought up at ceremony

By Jill Disis

Graduate student financial concerns were subtly brought to Chancellor Richard Herman’s attention Wednesday evening at the annual Campus Award for Excellence in Public Engagement ceremony.

“Public engagement is one of the pillars of our University,” Herman said in a speech. “The whole becomes greater than the parts.”

The ceremony honored three faculty members and two graduate students who served the community in various ways by furthering local initiatives and fostering programs.

“It’s to get a flavor of all the things that are going on here,” said Steve Sonka, interim vice chancellor for public engagement. “The faculty members get $1,500 in cash and a permanent increase in salary, and the students get a $1,500 cash prize.”

Kerry Pimblott, graduate student and one of the recipients, said she appreciated the award but wanted to give the Chancellor a letter addressing graduate students’ problems.

“There are struggles here on campus,” Pimblott said. “Most of us don’t get a living wage on campus. I get $14,000 a year.”

Pimblott said the biggest issue was the proposal to abolish tuition waivers for certain programs and appointments.

Currently, University graduate students need to spend 25 percent of their contracted time teaching to generate a tuition waiver. The University’s proposal would raise the level to 33 percent.

“They are asking us to take a pay cut, in light of the financial crisis,” Pimblott said. “It’s just not possible.”

Martha Webber, graduate student and another recipient of the award, said they brought the problem to the Chancellor’s attention because of the connection between graduate student participation in the community and the graduate program itself.

“I wouldn’t have been as engaged as I was without the assistance of tuition waivers,” Webber said.

Webber said removing tuition waivers does not allow students to participate in the programs and gain an education.

“It’s sending a counter-message in terms of accessibility,” Webber said. “It’s nothing that’s definitive, but it’s something that could be worrying.”

Both Webber and Pimblott are also involved with the Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University, which pushes for employment policies and benefits for graduate students.

“It’s a big year with this economic situation,” Webber said. “We’re just worried about the protections we have eroding.”