Dear President Fuchs,
My name is Lia Merivaki, and I am a doctoral candidate in political science at UF. During my academic studies at UF, I have served as a teaching assistant in large introductory undergraduate courses in political science, I have instructed my own courses in American and European politics and I have conducted independent and collaborative research, all while completing my graduate studies and my dissertation.
I am also a co-president of Graduate Assistants United, the labor union that represents over 4,000 research assistants, teaching assistants and other graduate assistants at UF. On behalf of all graduate assistants at UF, GAU negotiates the terms of our employment with UF’s administration, including but not limited to stipends, health care benefits for graduate assistants and their dependents, family leave and fees.
I am writing in response to your guest column, in which you shared some of your experiences as a college student and graduate assistant, highlighting how the student loan debt you incurred in the process was the best investment you have ever made. In your guest column, while recognizing the importance of affordable tuition and funds for “facilities, recruiting faculty and operations,” you also called on UF to work more on faculty and graduate assistant funding.
We are very grateful you shared your story and that you consider faculty and graduate assistants integral to UF’s plan to “be among the nation’s very best public universities.” Graduate assistants make a major contribution toward achieving this goal, as they are responsible for conducting much of the rigorous research, teaching and innovation that takes place here at UF while receiving minimal recognition.
We also share your commitment to finding “additional revenues to invest more in our faculty and graduate assistants.” GAU has been fighting year after year for higher stipends and lower fees, while gaining only limited traction with UF’s administration. During last Fall’s long negotiation round, we were happy to see, for the first time, UF agreed to stipend increases that benefited all of our graduate assistants equitably. More importantly, UF’s administration agreed to make fee relief a mandatory subject of bargaining. Graduate assistants across campus are thrilled with this positive development, as fee relief has been an issue GAU has debated with UF in previous years.
However, we have a lot of work left to do. More than a quarter of UF’s graduate assistants earn below the federal poverty line after paying fees. As a consequence, GAU strongly advocates for significant fee relief — our graduate assistants should not be paying to work. Addressing fees would bring an immediate improvement to the economic circumstances graduate assistants currently face.
On behalf of GAU, let me say I am glad we have you on our side. But now is the time to move beyond words and start making tangible changes that will positively impact graduate assistants at UF.
We invest our hearts and minds in our students while excelling at our graduate studies.
We value our graduate assistants. Isn’t it time for UF to do the same?
Lia Merivaki is a co-president of Graduate Assistants United.