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Monday, May 23, 2022

Graduate assistants rally against fee hikes

<p>People protest in front of Tigert Hall on Wednesday afternoon as part of a protest organized by Graduate Assistants United against increasing student fees.</p>

People protest in front of Tigert Hall on Wednesday afternoon as part of a protest organized by Graduate Assistants United against increasing student fees.

Waving colorful signs and chanting "stand up, fight back," UF graduate assistants rallied Wednesday to protest student fees they think are unfair.

About 40 students gathered on Plaza of the Americas to speak out against graduate assistant fees, which they say have increased 81 percent since 2005.

Unlike graduate assistant stipends, the fees are non-negotiable because they are not part of graduate assistant contracts, said Patrick McHenry, 32, co-president of the union Graduate Assistants United.

Graduate assistants received a 3 percent stipend raise last year but also faced a 16 percent increase in fees, he said.

"They're putting money in one pocket and taking it out of the other one," said union member Jose Soto, 31.

Almost half of the undergraduate courses offered by the university are taught by graduate assistants.

On average this year, members of the union said they will return 10 percent of their stipends to UF in fees.

"If you work for the university, you shouldn't have to pay to work at the university," McHenry said.

Paul Ortiz of the United Faculty of Florida came to the rally to voice his support for graduate assistants.

Professors can't teach classes and continue to do their research without the help of graduate assistants, and people forget that, he said.

Protesters marched to Tigert Hall, where they asked Board of Trustees liaison Jamal Sowell to put the issue of graduate assistant fees on the board's agenda for the December meeting.

Student fees, which are also paid by undergraduates, help pay for RecSports, student health care and legal services, counseling and other services graduate students use, UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said.

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Graduate assistant fees also go toward GatorGradCare, a health insurance plan the assistants receive through employment at UF.

"If they're not paying the fees, someone has to," she said.

In August, President Bernie Machen announced his desire to evaluate graduate programs and find ways to improve them.

His suggestions included increasing graduate assistant stipends.

He is expected to discuss the stipends at the December Board of Trustees meeting.

People protest in front of Tigert Hall on Wednesday afternoon as part of a protest organized by Graduate Assistants United against increasing student fees.

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