Education Opinion OPINION: Ohio University is exploiting its graduate student workers By Tim Zelina Posted on September 19, 2017 10 min read 1 0 1,700 Photo by Heather Willard. Opinion writer Tim Zelina outlines where, when and how Ohio U is exploiting its graduate workers. From compensation to health care, the situation looks dire. Graduate student workers are a valuable asset to any university. Besides the income derived from tuition and fees, graduate student workers ensure the smooth operation of the campus. Graduate students organize data, teach classes, conduct experiments and work diligently in offices and labs across the university. They are critical components of the productivity of our university, yet a bombshell report from the Ohio University Graduate Employee Organization has revealed that for their work, they are rewarded with a spit in the face. Just how much does the administration save with graduate workers? It is notoriously difficult to access graduate compensation, as the university does not seem to publicly record this information. A student activist group called the Graduate Student Employee Organization independently gathered information that includes data showing the minimum stipend for an assistantships at OU is a pitiful $7,000. Not only is this nearly half of the minimum stipends of most of our peer universities, but this is also pennies compared to the salary of a Bobcat Assistant Professor, who are paid on average $80,000 a year. Since Ohio U does not seem to make use of lecturers, this means Ohio U is saving a lot of money letting TAs assist with classes. No assistants to push around means hiring countless new staff who will demand actual benefits. As if a budget crisis from payroll was not enough, the research output would plunge. Without a respectable production of research, grants and donations would dry up, and new students would prefer to enroll at better schools. In short, the university would quickly become unable to function. If you think they have budget constraints now, just imagine the budget without grad students to exploit. And exploit they do; Ohio U’s treatment of its grad students is appalling. A quick peek at the GEO’s website shows a slew of distressing statistics. Research done by GEO contributors analyzing graduate student accounts demonstrates that the Ohio U Student Health Insurance Plan has risen 30 percent over the past 5 years. What conveniently has not risen is the university’s subsidization of that plan; this has remained static at 2 percent. Yes, Ohio U subsidizes only two percent, which means only around 40 dollars is subsidized from the current $1,976 plan, a plan that is mandatory. How does this compare to other universities? In simple terms, it does not. According to GEO’s analysis of the health plans of peer universities of Ohio U, its subsidization is a fraction of that of its sister universities. Consider the graph, provided by GEO, below; the University of South Carolina has nearly 13 times the percentage subsidization of health care as ours. And this is the university that is the odd man out of the group. Of the 10 universities surveyed, only 3 did not subsidize all of their graduate students health care, and of those three, only one, the University of South Carolina, is below 80 percent subsidization. Imagine then, that the worst offending of our peer universities is still many times higher a subsidization than Ohio U. This disgusting exploitation does not end with health care. Grad students working assistantships who find themselves parents of a child can expect no leniency from the university. As horrible as it is, Ohio U does not permit any time off for parental leave, paid or unpaid. GEO’s comparisons return to the peer universities depicted in the graph used for healthcare. Six of those universities allow for leave, though only five have paid leave. Ohio U is again in the minority in its harsh treatment of its graduate students. Graduate employees in their practical function are not volunteers or students, but laborers. Nobody is asking to equate graduate worker pay to that of full-time staff, but all workers should be properly compensated for their labor. Instead, the administration prefers to squeeze out every cent it can from these workers. It helps that they can always refer to budget constraints when people get critical. It speaks to the priorities of the university when they have the budget to give the $475,000 salaried president an extra allowance so he can live off campus, but they cannot afford to give graduate student workers a fraction of the wealth they have created. If there’s so little money, perhaps the administration could have held off on spending one million dollars cosmetically renovating Latitude 39. It is an insult that the university tries to claim budget constraints as a reason to underpay its workers when frivolous spending is done so openly. Imagine, for a moment, the graduate students all vanished. Without the help of their graduate student employees, professors would have to teach more hours, answer more emails and conduct more research, which in turn would hurt the academic performance of their students. Do you have a discussion session with a TA for one of your bigger lectures? Well, now your poor professor has to teach all those sessions, or cancel them altogether. Under this workload, the brightest of Ohio U’s professors and researchers would leave altogether. Why work at a place where your work cannot get done? There is no excuse to underpaying your workers. If Ohio U has issues with its budget direction, exploiting the graduate student workers is not an acceptable path. The administration’s treatment of the graduate student workers is an embarrassment to the university as a whole. It must no longer be tolerated. Every Athens student has a duty to help end this disgrace.