Binghamton University Teaching Assistants Demand Equal Pay for Equal WorkPosted: January 9, 2016
By: Andy Pragacz, firstname.lastname@example.org
Binghamton University recently made public a plan to increase pay for incoming teaching assistants (TAs) by between $2,000 and $7,000 a year. These raises, however, will not apply to current TAs. If implemented, this plan would mean TAs working in the same departments, doing the same work, will be paid drastically different sums. This plan goes against the most basic–but hard fought–tenet of workplace fairness: equal pay for equal work. This is not simply a betrayal of TAs, but of the entire community. Denying senior TAs raises, limits their participation in Binghamton, a place that can only benefit from young, active people with more cash. Therefore, BU TAs are fighting back.
This demand by graduate workers comes amidst years of criticism of BU administration by students. Most notably, their inept and disrespectful response to the demands presented by Students for Change and their supporters to combat interpersonal and structural racism, sexism, and homo-transphobia on campus and in university policies. Critics charge that the administration is undemocratic and not dedicated to the social justice goals of public education. The administration has spent years selling BU to wealthy students from out-of-state, raising tuition and fees, building overpriced dorms, jumping after military contracts, and disinvesting in the arts and humanities. They want the university to be a money-maker rather than an engine of social progress.
The University insists that only by raising wages unequally will BU become “competitive” with similar universities. Seven years without pay increases, on top of years of underinvestment in graduate teaching by BU and state underfunding, has pushed average TA stipends far below the “peer institution” average. Currently, the average TA on campus makes $14,500 during the school year, minus university mandatory fees that can run $1,800 yearly. The wages are so low the proposed $2.4 million, four year investment will only get BU TAs up to 75% of the peer institution average.
Teaching assistants counter this proposal with a simple proposition: equal pay for equal work. All people that do the same work should be given the same wages. Unequal wages within departments do not foster intellectual community (perhaps the most important element in choosing a university), but produce more stratification within the graduate student body. Furthermore, it disrespects the important job current TAs do to maintain BU as a “premier public” university. TAs make the university system work. In large lecture classes TAs do most of the grading and conduct most personal and internet contact with students.
After several campus and one off-campus protest, and a dozen meetings, the administration has barely budged. The administration charges that spreading money around to all TAs and GAs, current and incoming, “would not make [the university] competitive” and that the university lacks the funds to bring everyone up to the new level. This is utter nonsense. The university is the biggest, most important employer in the community with access to vast sums of state, university, and private money. Compared to the university’s current resources the $900,000 (spread out over three years) to give all TAs raises is small. What’s lacking is the will to find the cash and give graduate workers and students a voice in university policy.
How can you help graduate workers fight back? Easy. Send an email to President Harvey Stenger at email@example.com. When you do, you can also carbon copy (or “cc”) or blind carbon copy (“bcc”) firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can pass along your support to the hard working graduate students. As the President of a publicly funded institution and the face of regional economic development he is a politician that can be pressured by public opinion. Community members sending emails to the university President in support of graduate workers would be an important and powerful act.