Our teaching assistants – and other grad student employees – need a raise. With segregated fees increasing, no pay raise since 2009 and increased medical costs after Walker’s Act 10 legislation, our TAs are taking home $1,600 less in annual pay than they did in 2002 (adjusted for inflation). With an average take-home pay of about $9,500, our TAs earn well below the median for the Big Ten universities and, for that matter, the poverty line. All the while, our TAs have had to handle more than their fair share of teaching responsibilities at our university. Half of all instruction at the University of Wisconsin – not to mention grading and contact hours with students – is performed by inexpensive TA labor, saving our university millions annually. The typical TA for an introductory course teaches 200 students in a given year. An in-state student taking 10 courses per year pays about $1,038 in tuition per three credit course; for the 25 percent of students who are nonresidents, it’s about $2,663. A single TA thus is responsible for nearly $290,000 of revenue for the university per year and only receives about 3-5 percent of that in return.   

Why should we undergraduates care? As easy as it would be for us undergraduates to ignore the issue, it is crucial to our undergraduate education that we stand with our TAs. University of Wisconsin is a world-class school with a lot of world-class competitors. Such low take-home pay for TAs compared to that of TAs in other Big Ten schools is a huge deterrent for potential graduate students; highly qualified graduates might choose to attend our competitor schools instead, leaving us with whoever is left. Since the graduates who do choose to attend and teach at UW are paid so poorly, many of them are forced to work several jobs outside of their responsibilities of teaching, holding office hours, grading papers, etc. This puts an enormous amount of stress on them, and with their energy so completely drained, it weakens their ability to be effective teachers. This is especially harmful for undergraduates with classes where TAs play a central role, like language classes.

Furthermore, current undergraduates who hope to go on to grad school could find themselves in the same boat our TAs are in now, even if they attend a university other than UW. UW’s size and influence means that what happens here sets the standard for what happens at comparable schools across the country; if UW graduate workers continue receiving such low take-home pay, it’s likely that administrations at other universities will follow suit.

The Teaching Assistants Association, the union for graduate employees at UW, has begun their “Pay Us Back!” campaign to demand remission of segregated fees and a much needed increase in their wages. As undergraduates, we can show our support for the TAA by attending their May 9 event: “Grade-In for the Grader Good” taking place on Bascom Hill Thursday, from 12 to 4 p.m. Bring your homework, say hello to your TAs and let them know that you recognize that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Joe Evica ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in sociology and psychology. Anne Vandenburg ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in Spanish and zoology with a certificate in Environmental Studies.