Fellows fighting for funds
The UH English department teaching fellows met Monday at the graduate lounge in the Roy G. Cullen Building to address the steps they have taken toward increased pay, reduced fees and insurance coverage.
“In the meeting, we briefed everyone on the actions we’ve taken so far. We’ve been trying to talk to the administration since the beginning of the year,” said Talia Mailman, a Master of Fine Arts candidate in fictional writing.
The issues with salary began last semester when a group of teaching fellows realized they were being charged an extra $121.05 in fees, billed as tuition, which they were supposed to be granted remission, Mailman said.
They also discovered that TFs in the English department hadn’t had a raise in 20 years.
“We found that to be striking,” Mailman said. “Our wages were way below the poverty line.”
According to its Facebook page, “UH English TFs UNITE,” the fellows of the department make $11,200 yearly, which is below the federal poverty line that rests at $11,490. The organization issued a letter to UH President Renu Khator with the hopes of having a meeting Monday.
“We just want a response to our letter, we would like to get a fair and just salary,” Mailman said.
The group recently took its case to Houston Press, where an article ran on the issue. The UH administration later released a statement to the same publication that said the administration was in talks with the fellows.
UH has issued a statement that explains the payment process.
“Teaching fellows are students in the graduate program who receive a stipend as partial compensation for providing teaching support as a part of their education,” said Executive Director of Media Relations Richard Bonnin.
“These stipends are modest and not intended to serve as a living-wage salary. Students are here to study, learn and work with their graduate advisers to help them prepare for their careers,” he said.
Bonnin said UH knows about the petition and is conversing with the TFs about the issue.
“We value the service the fellows provide,” Bonnin said.
“To attract the best and brightest students, we recognize the need to offer competitive stipends within our financial and budget constraints. This will be one of many priorities the University will be evaluating when building the budget for the next biennium.”
The teaching fellows organized a sit-in 8 a.m. Tuesday at Khator’s office in the Ezekiel W. Cullen Building. After an hour and a half, the core committee of the TFs met with Interim Provost Paula Short, Chief Financial Officer Carl Carlucci and College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Dean John Roberts.
“When our core committee met with them, they were told the administration couldn’t speculate on any possible wage increase, and that was all they could promise.” said creative writing doctoral candidate Jennifer Lowe. “They would make the issue a priority in the July budgetary meeting.”
The TFs were joined by various faculty from the English department and will be with them during their stay for the remainder of the week with hopes that it will give their cause strength, Lowe said.
“The goal is to get a pay increase, or at least a range, some kind of numbers talk, not ‘We’ll make it a priority later,’ when they’re all hoping we’ll just given up and gone away,” Lowe said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re just gonna stay until we have a meeting that yields what we’ve voted on.”