Without Pay Raise in Twenty Years, UH Grad Students Take Petition to Masses
One month before your friends began painting their Facebook profile pictures red in support of gay rights, a group of University of Houston English Teaching Fellows swapped their main photos to something of the same color: a shot of the Cougars' mascot, blazing red, with a bit of text underneath it:
Something UH grad students know well
University of Houston: Where grad students have not received a raise in 20 years.While this online move was ignored by the administration and the larger student body alike, prospective students took note. Potential students looking to UH's MFA and Ph.D. programs, considered some of the finest in the nation, suddenly started asking questions within the interview stage of their application processes.
"When we're doing admissions and interviewing Ph.D. candidates, they've started asking about it," Tony Hoagland, an associate professor of English, told Hair Balls. "This is already a problem. I guarantee that this has lost us a lot of grad students."
And they're right to ask about it. Because, as shared by the same group of English TFs who've swapped their Facebook profiles, those participating in the programs are approaching penury. Their program, despite its prestige -- the university has landed top-five rankings every year within recent memory -- has begun dropping prospective candidates because it offers a stipend that forces current TFs' energies from teaching and research onto mere survival.
As the group of TFs, who are expected to both research their studies and lead two composition courses, shared on their Facebook page, their annual stipends have remained stagnant "since at least 1993." MFA students see a stipend of approximately $9,600, while Ph.D. students receive some $11,200 per annum. According to Beth Lyons, one of the Ph.D. TFs, such annual rates are significantly below peer programs.
"You look at Cornell, for instance, and that annual stipend is $26,000 per year -- and that's in Ithaca!" Lyons told Hair Balls. "Denver's at $18,000, Athens is $15,000, USC and UCLA are $20,000. And most of these places also have a lower cost of living, too."
However, following fees incurred -- 16 percent for Ph.D. students, and nearly 20 percent for those pursuing MFAs -- the stipends at UH drop to $9,400 for Ph.D.'s and $7,800 for MFA's. Moreover, while tuition hikes are waived for these TFs, they can't forgo jumps in student fees. Whenever a new fee is levied -- say, for a new football stadium -- these MFA and Ph.D. students see another chunk of their salaries swiped.
Students who want to supplement their university income with another job are out of luck. According to Lyons, any jobs beyond their current position are expressly prohibited by the students' initial contracts. "Any other work is in violation of the contract we signed," Lyons told Hair Balls.
Via an internal survey of 49 respondents, Lyons noted that they discovered TFs required an average of 1.9 outside jobs simply to subsist. "71 percent of English TFs who responded work outside jobs to cover living expenses, because we feel we can't adequately live," she said. " What we're asking for is a living wage. It's nothing impossible."