Graduate students lined the steps of Tigert Hall clanging pots and chanting “no more fees” as part of a Graduate Assistants United rally Thursday.
More than 60 students donning “Don’t feed the Gators with my fees” shirts assembled to voice their opposition to the current rate of graduate assistant fees.
At the rally, the students were asked to sign a letter stating their needs for Marshall Criser III, the chancellor of Florida’s state university system.
In front of posters listed with the salaries of university administrators, Tom Auxter, a UF philosophy professor, said the $700-per-semester fee rate is an outrageous amount for graduate assistants to pay.
“This is not the way to treat graduate students at a serious university,” said Auxter, who’s also the president of the United Faculty of Florida. “They are the centerpiece of all the work we’re doing.”
The University of South Florida and Florida State University had Graduate Assistants United representatives at the conference as well.
Joshua Guy Lenes, co-president of USF’s Graduate Assistants United chapter, said graduate students need to come together to raise awareness about the cost of fees.
“We are gathered as state employees to tackle this issue at a state level,” the 27-year-old said after the conference.
In 2013, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill to provide $15 million to elevate UF to a top 10 university. Kevin Funk, the 31-year-old co-president of UF’s GAU chapter, said he thinks UF should eliminate the fees to help propel it into a high-ranking spot.
“You will not build a top 10 university on the backs of underpaid and overworked graduate students,” he said.
About 4,200 graduate assistants who teach, research and assist professors are enrolled at UF, according to a UF press release. In October, UF and the Graduate Assistants United negotiated a contract that included a 4.4 percent raise for graduate assistants.
However, students say the raise didn’t help much for some, such as Milton Newberry III, a UF agriculture education and communication graduate student who said he still can’t afford to attend conferences for his research.
“They are asking so much from graduate students,” said Newberry, 30.
UF faculty members were also present at the rally. Paul Ortiz, director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, as well as Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, assistant professor in the African American Studies Program and the Department of Religion, showed their support for the students.
“You are receiving poverty-level wages to do the job that many professors receive six-figure salaries for,” Simmons told the crowd.
[A version of this story ran on page 10 on 3/14/2014 under the headline "Graduate students rally in support of lowering assistant fees"]
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, a UF assistant professor and activist, supports Graduate Assistants United at the rally against tuition fees on Thursday at Tigert Hall.