02 Nov

Bargaining Update #13

We have made significant headway in the past two negotiation sessions! Read on to learn more concerning an update on hourly graduate student workers vs. Graduate Assistants, deadlines for sending notices of continuation of appointment and GPA checks, informing students of their personal progress toward degree completion and part-time parity for part time Graduate Assistants.

Mitigating confusion regarding Hourly Grads (aka pseudo-assistantships) vs. Graduate Assistants

Several of you have inquired about benefits for “hourly graduate employees,” graduate students who work as departmental assistants across campus and are paid via the graduate student payroll on an hourly basis. Some departments have taken to calling hourly graduate employees “graduate assistants”, which has led to some confusion as to whether or not they are covered by the GAU contract and entitled to the benefits our contract guarantees. We addressed this issue in both sessions, and the Administration has clarified that graduate students paid on an hourly basis do not receive the same benefits as Graduate Assistants. This is due to the fact that colleges have access to a limited number of official Graduate Assistantships, whose component parts are strictly controlled. In order to avoid confusion regarding these positions, the compensation and/or benefits (as applicable) awarded to hourly grads should be enumerated by the individual hiring departments in their respective grants.

Notices of continuation of appointment and GPA checks

The next topic on the agenda tackled the uncertainty surrounding appointment deadlines for assistantships. There is currently no set date by which a graduate student could expect to receive an appointment letter confirming his or her position as a Graduate Assistant for the following academic year. GAU has proposed establishing a firm notification date where departments notify their current Grad Assistants as to whether or not their assistantship will be available the following year. If the deadline approaches and the department doesn’t know if funding will be available, the department should tell the Grad Assistant this fact so they can be fully aware of the status of their funding as early as possible and can consider alternate sources of funding in a timely fashion if the need arises. It appears that the administration and graduate school are on board with setting a deadline for notification of July 1, barring any case-specific extenuating circumstances. We will confirm this in our next negotiating session and determine how the graduate school and administration intends to implement this deadline.

Qualifying for an Assistantship: GPA Check

According to our contract, a Graduate Assistant must maintain a 3.0 GPA to be eligible for an assistantship. This begs the question, “When are GPAs actually checked?” We were fortunate to be able to discuss this issue with Dean Zawia at length. He described the current process as follows:

A Graduate student’s GPA is checked once at the end of the Fall and Spring semesters.

  • Half-Year Assistantships- Your assistantship length matters here. If your GPA drops below a 3.0, you have until the end of your “appointment period” to bring your GPA back up to good standing. You will receive a provisional status letter from by the Graduate School in January for the fall and June/July for the summer if your GPA drops below a  3.0. If your assistantship is for a single semester, it is within a department’s rights to not offer a subsequent assistantship, as your GPA is no longer high enough to qualify you for an assistantship.
  • If your assistantship is for a full year and your GPA drops below 3.0 at the end of Fall Semester, a provisional status letter is sent to you by January notifying you of your low GPA and articulating what they must do during the spring semester to bring their GPA up to remain in good academic standing. You are allowed to remain on your assistantship, at the discretion of your department, until the end of the appointment period- that is, the end of the spring semester, to bring their GPA up to a 3.0.  To qualify for a subsequent assistantship the following fall, you will have to have a GPA of 3.0 at the start of the appointment period.

Evaluation/progress toward degree completion updates

It has come to our attention that a disparity exists in departmental feedback regarding students’ progress toward degree completion across departments and colleges; some Graduate Assistants are receiving great feedback, whereas others are receiving none. To this end, we have produced a short survey, where you can let us know if you are receiving quality feedback from your advisor as to your progress and performance. Please take a couple of minutes to complete it–the information will help us greatly in the coming negotiation sessions. Please only take the survey ONCE.

Part-Time Parity

We concluded our second session with a preliminary discussion about the financial inequality facing part-time Graduate Assistants. As it stands, half-time assistants are automatically billed tuition for a full-time course load, as they are set to receive a half-tuition waiver. They do not receive a 20% student fee waiver, nor do they receive a parking pass fee waiver. In short, part time Graduate Assistants are left out from their fair share of benefits. We are developing  a summary for the next meeting that accurately depicts part-time assistants’ financial outlook and will propose an alternative solution that puts our part-time members on equal footing with their full-time counterparts. Do not hesitate to reach out if you have any personal stories to share regarding any of the topics mentioned in this post.


Our next negotiation session will be held on Friday, November 20, 2015 at 10:45 AM.

09 Oct

Bargaining Update #12

Today’s negotiating session was especially productive.  Read on for updates on  the Grad Assistant Fee Payment Plan, External Employment and Leaves of Absence.

Graduate Assistant Student Fee “Payment Plan”

Our session began with a productive visit from the Vice Provost of Enrollment Management, Dr. Dean Libutti. Dr. Libutti updated us on the status of the graduate assistant “payment plan”, which is now called a deferment request in order to comply with federal tax regulations. We learned that the original form to request the deferment lacked important information, and have since updated the form to reflect these changes. In addition to the updated form, there are two important details about the deferment plan that we’d like to specifically highlight to you:

  1. The graduate student fee deferment request plan will only be available to full time Graduate Assistants this year.
  2. If you pay your final installment of fall student fees by December 31, the IRS will count that payment towards your 2015 1098-T, which is used to determine your eligibility for education credits on your taxes. For more information on the 1098-T and education tax credits, we recommend this basic walk through from Forbes. As always, we recommend you consult a tax professional for advisement regarding your individual financial situation.

External Employment (Second Job)

We are thrilled to report a resounding success in regards to off campus employment. As you know, we have struggled in the past to get the University to unequivocally state that domestic graduate assistants have the right to hold a second job. Last week, the graduate council passed language to be added to the graduate manual, Section 12.34, Conditions of Appointment to Assistantships. The new language will appear in the next edition of the Graduate Manual, as follows. Underlined sections are new content:

“Students on assistantships are not eligible for additional on campus academic year employment without permission of the Dean of the Graduate School (see GAU contract). Such permission must be obtained prior to beginning the additional on campus employment. Off campus employment is not governed by these policies. If a student seeks employment off campus (not compensated by university funds), such employment should not conflict with the duties and responsibilities of the assistantship and satisfactory progress toward degree completion.”

The administration and GAU have also agreed to change the GAU Contract to point to this new Grad Manual passage so Grad Assistants can clearly see that the University recognizes your right to hold a second job.  The administration’s team has agreed to draft new contract language to remove references to the outdated Swan Memo and to clarify the intent of that memo by stating its contents. We expect to see their proposed language changes at our next negotiating session.

Leaves of Absence

We are beginning what we anticipate will be a lengthy discussion regarding leaves of absence. One of the major issues that has been reported to us in the past has revolved around Grad Assistants finding themselves pushed into taking a leave of absence, particularly for maternity leave, when taking such a leave results in the loss of our contractual right to six weeks of paid parental leave. Both GAU and the administration agree that Grad Assistants should have an impartial leave advisor who can discuss your options with you and help you to make decisions that put you and your needs first. The administration’s negotiating team has agreed to come back to us with proposed language for the Graduate Manual that establishes a point of contact in the Graduate School for Graduate Assistants to reach out to to discuss leave options.

As we continue on this topic in upcoming negotiating sessions, we will also be addressing access to your two weeks of unpaid time off and the accumulation and utilization of sick leave.

Our next negotiating session will take place on Monday, October 19th, 2015 at 1:30PM.

07 Oct

Complaint: New Email Accounts

This post was received by email from a concerned Graduate Assistant.

Dear GAU,

I’m writing on behalf of a number of graduate students regarding the recent email change-over instigated by Human Resources. While I have heard graduate students complain that the @my.uri.edu email address is unprofessional, and that they would like @uri.edu accounts, this recent change-over was poorly managed, and frankly more of a circus sideshow than a well orchestrated IT maneuver.
First, graduate students (and even some administrators) were not notified ahead of time of this change over. Prior notification of a major email switch is necessary to facilitate the transition: students can then notify professional contacts of the e-mail change, etc. Second, despite the “Preferred E-Mail Contact” setting in e-Campus, the university has decided that the new @uri.edu email will be our primary contact email. This is a blatant disregard for our contact preferences, and ignores a long-standing preference set in e-Campus that should be respected (why have the setting at all?). Further, the changes went into effect near the beginning of September, but students were not notified until today (October 6th). To clarify, important emails from URI including emails about payroll, campus finances, and even time-sensitive emails from the graduate school were sent to an email address that students did not know existed! This is absurd! Personally, I missed three emails about my tuition bill, two emails from health services, and an email letting me know that my thesis was ready to be picked up for defense. This could have delayed or prevented my graduation and is completely unacceptable. Other students have experienced similar problems, and I will be urging them to bring their complaints to GAU and the university.
On top of this, despite being expected to use this new account as our primary email account, the university did NOT migrate our current contacts/messages/etc. to the new account, nor provide readily available instructions to do so. Additionally, they have DISABLED the message forwarding option making it impossible to forward our IMPORTANT campus email to the email accounts we actually use. I have worked previously in the IT field; one of the most important aspects of an email system transition is the migration of accounts and the allowance of mail forwarding to facilitate user transition. The very definition of an unacceptable email transition in a university setting is one that has the potential to cause harm to student careers, i.e. delaying graduation.
I know that the email transition has little to do with GAU, but I urge GAU to take action based on the notion that this system transition had the potential to directly alter students’ graduation dates.
Thank you for your time,
One concerned student on behalf of many.
29 Sep

Enrolling in the Graduate Assistant Student Fee Deferment Plan

If you are a Graduate Teaching, Administrative or Research assistant, you now have the option to pay your 2015-2016 graduate student fee bill in installments through Enrollment Services. You must sign up by the dates indicated below to enroll in the deferment plan for each semester. There is no enrollment charge in order to sign up for this installment payment plan.

How to Enroll

If you are a current Graduate Assistant and wish to enroll in the student fee deferment plan to pay your student fees, please download and complete the Graduate Assistant Fee Deferment Request Form, then send an email to esmail@etal.uri.edu with the completed form attached.


Enrollment Deadlines

Please return completed forms to Enrollment Services.  Forms must be received by October 23, 2015 for  Fall term requests, and by February 22, 2016 for Spring term requests.


Payment Schedule

You should refer to your e-Campus Account Summary to determine the actual amount due in fees for each semester.   You may divide the total fee amount into thirds and remit payment according to the following schedule.  Please note that your Fall semester fee balance must be fully paid by December 31, 2015, and your Spring semester fee balance must be fully paid by May 1, 2016. 

Payment Due Dates- Fall Semester Fees
Payment Due Dates- Spring Semester Fees
November 1, 2015March 1, 2016
December 1, 2015April 1, 2016
December 31, 2015**May 1, 2016

**If you are eligible to claim an education tax credit on your 2015 Federal Income Tax Return, it is important that your final fall payment be received by December 31, 2015.


Payment Methods

Payments must be made in person at Enrollment Services (Green Hall, third floor). If paying by check, please indicate your student ID number and “Grad Assistant Deferment Request” in the memo line. Credit cards may be used, but standard convenience fees apply.


Late Payments

Please note that a late payment fee will be assessed if payments are not made on time.

Graduate Student FeeLate Payment Charge
(assessed the 15th of the month)
$400 - $999$15
Less than $400$10



If you have any questions or concerns regarding this payment plan, please do not hesitate to call URI Enrollment Services at (401) 874-9500 or via email at esmail@etal.uri.edu.



21 Sep

Bargaining Update #11

At today’s negotiation session, we tried to finalize old business and brought up a new topic, leaves. We discussed the anticipated payment plan for student fees and pressed for a timely implementation of the plan, as the semester is already well underway. We revised language to be displayed on Enrollment Services’ website as well as our website and the graduate school’s homepage. We also posed questions about logistics (when are payments due? what about the spring semester?) that are being forwarded to Enrollment Services. We will let you know as soon as we have finalized details! As you know, we were assured that this plan would be available at the beginning of the semester.

We then addressed everyone’s favorite topic, parking. We are aware that people are having issues obtaining passes through the new vendor. The Administration has been in touch with Parking Services to see why students are not being recognized as Graduate Assistants by the parking system. In addition, we have also forwarded a list of GAs who have contacted us about not being able to access the correct pass. Whatever you do, please do not pay for a pass! Please let us know if you are unable to select the GA pass and/or have talked to Parking Services without a resolution and we will include your name in the list of those who remain unable to obtain a pass.

We began discussions regarding access to leaves of all types including but not limited to parental leave, medical leave, leaves of absence, unpaid leave, paid leave, and how (or whether) the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to Grad Assistants. We tried to clarify the difference between taking a leave of absence as a student (a leave from your studies) versus a leave of absence as an employee (6 weeks of paid family leave, for example). In the past, some GAs have not been able to access their employee leave, and others have been told they must/should take an academic leave by their department. We brought up the potential consequences for a student who takes an academic leave (for example, if you are no longer a student, you are no longer eligible for an assistantship and could lose the benefits provided by your contract such as health insurance). We asked the Administration to help us clarify these policies and their consequences in our contract. This is a large, complicated issue with many moving parts, but we are determined to gain concrete clarification on what your rights are and get them written out in plain language in our contract.

Our next negotiating session is scheduled for Monday, September 28th at Noon.

10 Sep

Bargaining Update #10

Let me start with an update on an issue I know everyone is nervous about: parking. Graduate Assistant parking permits are not yet available. We have been assured by parking services that as long as you park in a legal spot (so not on the grass, for instance), in a commuter lot (or resident lot if you live in Graduate Village), you will not be towed. Please check Parking Services’ Graduate Assistant-specific page for further updates. Also, if you are a full time Graduate Assistant and paid for your parking pass, please contact us ASAP so we can begin the process of getting you reimbursed.

Once again, most of the negotiation session on September 9th focused on off campus employment. As a reminder, during our last meeting both sides agreed to propose a change to the Graduate Manual via the Graduate Council so that the Grad Manual could have clear language that off campus employment cannot be prohibited as a term of your employment. During our meeting this week, we firmed up the language that will be proposed to the Graduate Council to make sure that it is clear, direct and actionable. Both sides agreed on language which will hopefully be proposed during the next Graduate Council meeting in early October.

As far as our ongoing conversation about a Grad Assistant fee payment plan, we are still waiting on information from the Administration on how to register for this plan. We will pass along the information as soon as we receive it.

We have this week off from negotiations and are using the time to form this year’s contract research team. If you are interested in contributing to our success at the negotiating table, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and let us know. We need all hands on deck! Our next negotiating session is scheduled for September 21st at 11:30am where we will be discussing Leaves of every kind, including advocating for giving Grad Assistants some choice in when you use your two weeks of unpaid leave.

In Solidarity,

Your Negotiating Team

08 Sep

Bargaining Update #9

Progress! That seemed to be the theme of Tuesday’s negotiating session. We were able to make headway on a number of key issues: payment plans for student fees, parking, off campus employment, and reimbursement for the use of your personal vehicle took up the majority of this session’s focus.

We also had the privilege of meeting with a representative from Enrollment Services and from Public Safety/Parking Services to help us work through some of the issues that required their expertise.

Payment Plan for Student Fees
We are pleased to report that we have an agreement regarding a payment plan for student fees. Graduate Assistants will be eligible to sign up for a payment plan directly through Enrollment Services (not through a third party, like HigherOne). As you know, previously Grad Assistants were expected to pay their student fees by October or pay to start a payment plan. A payment plan that we can spread out across the semester will make it more financially manageable for us to pay our fees without leaving us penniless at the start of the semester. There will be no fees associated with signing up for this plan. You will, however, have to officially enroll in the payment plan. We hope to post complete details early next week once Enrollment Services finalizes the plan.

Our discussion with Public Safety/Parking Services covered many topics, including codifying reimbursement procedures. A new parking vendor is being implemented as we write, and Parking Services remains hopeful this will alleviate some of the issues we have experienced in the past. We also discussed increasing Graduate Assistant access to staff/faculty lots after 4:30pm since so many of us are here after hours working in the lab and/or attending classes. We know that shuttle service has been a concern. We were told that Parking Services will be looking into possibly extending the current route of the shuttle so Grad Village would be served as well as the main campus. There are many changes taking place on campus with new buildings going up and lots being closed, and we want to be sure that access to after hours parking remains convenient with the new campus layout.

External Employment (Second Job)
We may have made some progress on convincing the administration to clearly state the fact that you have the right to hold a second, off-campus job. (Please note: this applies to Graduate Assistants who are not legally prohibited from holding additional employment. If you are an international student, the terms of your Visa will determine whether or not you can work outside of the university.) Everyone in the room is in agreement that you have this right, but there has been some push back on codifying this in the contract. We agreed to consider proposing a change to the Graduate Manual via the Graduate Council so the Grad Manual could state this fact, and our contract could point back to that language. We agreed on the language to propose to the Graduate Council.

Reimbursement for Personal Vehicle Use
Finally, we reached a tentative agreement regarding reimbursement for the use of a personal vehicle for assistantship duties. It was agreed to put new language into the contract that guarantees Graduate Assistants are reimbursed for the use of their personal vehicle for your job duties. This policy has been in place for all University employees, and now it will definitely extend to you as well.

Our next meeting will take place on the first day of classes—Wednesday, September 9th, 2015 at 12:30.

28 Aug

Big Thinkers Deserve More

On Tuesday I had the privilege of standing in solidarity with a number of GAU members along with members of the URI faculty and maintenance unions as we rallied in support of a new contract for URI’s Graduate Assistants. Since August 31 of last year, the Graduate Assistants of URI have been working under a continuing contract. Under this old contract we have no dental or vision benefits, no guaranteed funding for our full program of study, little relief from burdensome student fees and ambiguous language regarding parking fees and off-campus employment. Today’s rally and march was to let the administration know that even during summer we are a unified group that will speak up for our rights and will insist on being treated as integral members of the university as both students and employees.

We began the day’s action with a rally at Swan Hall where we discussed our goals and prepared to visit strategic points within the campus. At approximately 1 pm a group of about 25 union members and supporters set out, signs in hand, to Roosevelt Hall where we would line the hall to the negotiating room. Along the way we chanted the slogans, “What do we want? A fair contract! When do we want it? Now!” and, “Respect the old one! Give us a new one!” As we stood in the hallway we greeted the administration’s negotiating team with a mixture of “hellos” and solemn silence. The Dean of the Graduate School, Nasser Zawia even stopped to take some photos, appearing impressed with our presence.

From there we continued our rally, marching to Parking Services. One of the original purposes of our action was to protest Parking Services attempting to charge commuting Graduate Assistants a fee for parking. This had been the third year in a row that Parking Services had attempted to collect revenue from Graduate Assistants and the third year in a row we needed to file a grievance for a breach of contract. Thankfully our grievance yielded results earlier in the day. This allowed us to thank the staff at Parking Services instead of our having to voice our continued opposition to the unfair imposition of fees that violate our contract. While this does not diminish the need to fight the other fees the administration continues to burden Graduate Assistants with, it does demonstrate our power to hold them accountable and honor our current, albeit expired, contract.

Finally we marched and chanted our way to the house of the President and then to his office. This was largely symbolic as President Dooley is currently in China. We were able to greet his secretary and leave dual messages of thanks for resolving the parking fee dispute and to implore the university to do its part to help contract negotiations come to a mutually agreeable conclusion quickly.

Everyone in attendance added to the success of our rally. We were loud, respectful and present. Once school starts again our numbers will grow and these actions will take on additional force. It is important that we let not only the administration, but our fellow Graduate Assistants, staff and faculty allies, and the greater URI community know that we are asking for a fair deal and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Our current contract, in many ways, fails to do that. By demanding what we know is right and just, we are standing up not only for ourselves, but everyone else who will need to demand fair and respectful treatment.

In Solidarity,

Eddy Fava

27 Aug

Bargaining Update #8

Let us start by saying a huge THANK YOU to everyone who showed up Tuesday to show their support in the hallway outside the negotiating room. It was a great visual for the Administration to see how much each of you care about getting the contract we deserve in a timely manner. Your support was taken to heart by the negotiating team, and helped us to fight especially hard to make sure the Administration heard your needs loud and clear at the bargaining table. Check out the post by Eddy below for more information on the Rally.

We covered three topics (all of which have been discussed in previous sessions) during negotiations on Tuesday: parking fees, external employment, and student fees.

As you might have expected, we spent half of the session discussing a myriad of parking-related issues, including partial parking fee waivers for part-time assistants, streamlining the process for reimbursements, and making campus more accessible for those at Grad Village. We discovered the Administration does not intend to discuss anything related to our parking fee waiver until financials are on the table. Traditionally, non-financial issues are addressed and (hopefully) resolved before financial issues are considered. We will continue all of these discussions during our next session when a representative from parking services will hopefully be present to inform us of the University’s overall plans for parking in Kingston.

We are happy to report that we may have made some progress on external employment. You may recall that in previous sessions the Administration acknowledged our right to have a second, off-campus job for all GAs who are eligible to work outside of the University. However, the Administration’s negotiating team has been hesitant to include protection for this right in our contract. Today, both sides agreed that cleaning up the current language on this topic in the Graduate School Manual and removing the reference to the Swan Memo in our contract could offer an acceptable path forward. Our contract could then cite the Graduate School Manual. This proposed solution would ensure that both GAs and faculty have information on the proper policies regarding external employment available to them. We will be looking over these language changes during our next session.

Last session we discussed the potential for an in-house payment plan (without an enrollment fee) for student fees. This would give you a practical option for paying your fees over the semester instead of being on the hook for the whole bill all at once. It looks like this option may be available as early as this Fall. A representative from enrollment services has been invited to our next negotiating session to provide us with more information. We hope to be able to pass along the details about enrolling in the payment plan after that session.

Our next session is Tuesday, September 1st at 1:30 pm. We are still looking for an additional member to join the GAU negotiating team. Please email us at uri.gau@gmail.com if you are interested in joining us at the negotiating table.

In Solidarity,
Your Negotiating Team
Melissa Burger, Ashton Foley, Danielle Dirocco, and Elizabeth Brannon

24 Aug

Prepare to Rally Against Parking Fees

Join us for the following two events:

Pizza & Sign Making at Roosevelt Hall Room 307 on August 24th at 5:30 pm – 7 pm

Join us for a night of pizza-eating and sign-making! We’ll be preparing materials to support our negotiating team in their negotiation session on Tuesday and to make our voices heard about the imposition of parking fees. Hope to see you there! We’ll also be hosting a conference call at 6:00 pm to strategize for Tuesday’s rally – email us at uri.gau@gmail.com or RSVP to this event for call-in details.

Protest Rally: meet at 12 pm, start the rally at 12:30 pm on August 25th. Location TBD.

We demand respect. It’s time to show our strength in our collective action. Meet at noon on Tuesday, August 25th, to organize. We rally to protest the recent violation of our contract when URI imposed parking fees on Graduate Assistants. We rally to support our contract negotiating team who have persisted in arguing for better working conditions in the face of delaying tactics which have lasted for more than a year. Stand up for your rights. Stand up and rally for each other. Together we will show our university we have a voice and we will not be ignored.