On Jan. 27, there was a West Chester University Council of Trustees meeting. It began with updates from the “Finance and Administration Committee.” The Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Lorraine Bernotsky provided an informational update. One of which caught my attention was that they are “focused on retaining critical employees.” When referencing what many call “the great resignation.”
The fact that throughout this pandemic at West Chester University, as Dr. Bernotsky said, “We have not been immune to [the great resignation]” though they are doing what they can to retain “their key people.” She focused on dollars “built… into last year’s budget,” which were going to be distributed amongst the non-represented employees, those not part of a union. As those represented employees, noted by Dr. Bernotsky, have raises built into their contracts. Whereas those non-represented employees, she noted, “[have to be worked] out with the Chancellor’s office and the Board of Governors each year.” They got permission this year to use this money to do so.
For those that might be unaware that at a university there are all kinds of employees; some are represented by a Union, and some are not. For instance, faculty and coaches at West Chester University are represented by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF). As well, many within Student Affairs such as many assistant directors and associate directors across campus offices or departments are represented through State College and University Professional Association (SCUPA). Whereas others at the university such as the directors of various offices on campus aren’t represented by a union. In addition, there are Graduate Assistants within these offices or elsewhere throughout the university who are unrepresented.
Dr. Bernotsky stated specifically that they would be “trying to apply those dollars in strategic ways all the way through the ranks of our non-represented meaning our non-union employees.”
Many Graduate Assistants do wonder if that means us. Are we seen as key people within the university? Will we be receiving any raises for the work we do to support students, faculty, staff and the university community?
Currently a Graduate Assistant who has a 15-hour contract is provided a tuition waiver and a stipend, which is what the University would claim as the total compensation package. Then, a 15-hour contract would provide total compensation of $13,038. However, what isn’t included are the fees which must be paid to use the services or to take classes within the university. That takes that down to $9,936.20 as supposed total compensation before taxes. A Graduate Assistant taking nine credits with that 15-hour contract might only see $684 guaranteed at the end of the year.
Remember this is for a 15-hour a week job, meaning you likely need to get another part time job. Many times, it is impossible for someone with multiple part time jobs to receive or afford health insurance. This is the case for one Graduate Assistant I know that is not on their parent’s health insurance. And not to mention it can be difficult to find a part-time job that can fit with your Graduate Assistantship, classes and other life responsibilities.
I’d encourage West Chester University to make sure that Graduate Assistants are valued as critical employees, and not valued as the Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) said at a recent public hearing.
Nick Marcil is a second-year Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs Graduate Student. NM871511@wcupa.edu