Students First, Workers Second

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Graduate School recently proposed a pay restructuring plan for graduate assistants. December 16 was the first chance graduate assistants had to make their voices heard at a meeting with Dean William J. Karpus.


  1. The restructuring plan has been in the works for about a year and a half (initially I wrote two years, sorry), and despite a commitment to shared governance, no graduate assistants were included. After a leaked memo from a sympathetic faculty member, the graduate assistant's union, the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) arranged for several meetings with the Graduate School and also organized a rally. After this collective action, the Graduate School delayed implementation of the pay restructuring until May 2017. The Graduate School also agreed to host various listening sessions.
  2. After months of confusion, contradictory answers, and a lack of accountability, Dean Karpus met with graduate assistants on December 16, the day after the last day of fall semester classes. About 70 people were in attendance, including graduate assistants, faculty, and staff. It was the first scheduled listening session.
  3. As a PhD candidate in Scandinavian Studies, as a graduate assistant who has taught several courses, as a graduate assistant who has devoted six years of my life to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I was interested in what Dean Karpus would have to say. After the session, I collected my thoughts and sent out 33 (plus one) tweets.
  4. That's not true. He actually began the meeting by noting that this proposal was already on his desk when he took the job in August of 2015. Over the course of the hour, he repeated that fact four more times, each time trying to avoid any accountability.
  5. Dean Karpus keeps pushing this line. But if I describe what I do to a child (or anyone really), it sure sounds like a job. As a Swedish teacher, I taught every day. I went to an office. I prepared a presentation for the day. I gave that presentation. I taught. I asked questions. I answered questions. I led discussion. I assigned homework. I graded homework. And then the next day, I did it all again. At the end of the month, I received a paycheck from my employer, the University, for the work I did. Sounds like a job.
  6. And apparently that number of hours is no more than 20.
  7. We all want to finish. That's the goal. But we have other responsibilities that sometimes slow us down. Including making enough money to survive. Trying to push us out means less institutional memory. Fewer graduate assistants who remember what things were like before, sets a new status quo. That's good for administration who wants to cut costs at the expense of graduate assistants. It's not good for future graduate assistants.
  8. As graduate assistants, we make decisions every day about what we can, want, and need to do to ensure that we get the most out of our education and training. Sometimes that means taking on more job responsibilities in order to gain more skills, sometimes it means sitting in the library, lab, and archive to hammer out some research, and sometimes it means sitting in classes, or writing, or teaching, or working in the Writing Center, or as a tutor. It never means asking the Graduate School if we are allowed to work more hours.
  9. Which suggests there is an easy solution to the problems that Dean Karpus and others are seeing. Pay us more. Pay us a living wage.
  10. He never defined how the market would inform compensation, or who would receive said market-informed compensation, or even what market he's talking about.