We, the graduate students of the University of Houston English department, petition the university administration to engage in a serious conversation with its students and department representatives about the conditions of our employment. By collectively offering our signatures, we express our discontent at the current situation and indicate our support for department representatives and students who advocate for change in light of the following grievances.
1. Fees: Students are currently required to pay around $1,000 per semester in campus fees. This figure represents a significant increase in fees, which began in Fall 2012. Because TAs (PhDs) make about $11,000/year (and MFAs make even less), TAs are paying about 18% or more of their income back to the University in student fees. This is a problem particularly because students are contractually obligated to work ONLY for the university; students who attempt to supplement their income are in breach of contract.
2. TA Stipends: TA stipends have not increased significantly since the late 1990s. If stipends had increased in accordance with inflation (in order to represent a cost-of-living increase), stipends would now be at about $15,000. Some members of English Department faculty and administration are lobbying that TA stipends receive a much-needed increase.
3. Tuition: Based on the way UH consolidated tuition and incidental classroom/course fees in the Fall 2012 semester, students paid a portion of their tuition not covered under the DSTF contract (designated as "differential designated tuition") despite the wording of our acceptance letters, which states that students will receive tuition remission, and precedent from past years, in which students were not required to pay any portion of tuition. Students may therefore have accepted offers of admission to the university under false pretenses.
Dr. Herendeen reported to GES on December 20th that the university will cover differential designated tuition for TAs in the Spring 2013 semester; however, this matter is still undecided for future semesters.
4. Health Insurance: Many students were implicitly promised more than a stipend to cover health insurance. However, students are often paying around $1,000/year of their income for university health insurance.
5. Class Sizes: With current class limits, it is becoming difficult, if not impossible, to limit TA workloads to the contractually stated 20 hours per week.
6. Transparency: Clearly written and easily available information about the breakdown for student fees and financial information should be provided to everyone along with copies of our DSTF contracts.
Please sign this petition in order to demonstrate your discontent with conditions as they now stand. In signing this petition, you urge the university administration to engage in an open dialogue with all department representatives and students about how our work conditions can be improved.