TA cuts could leave students jobless and degrees unfinished

Stakes are high as the UW tries to address budget shortcomings by cutting graduate jobs in the College of Arts and Sciences.

While losing a job may seem like a rather common issue in adulthood, it actually has very specific and extremely detrimental effects for graduates. There are direct consequences to not having a job if a student is on a green card, is a parent, or requires the teaching assistant (TA) position to finish their degree. 

Filiz Kahraman, a Ph.D. candidate majoring in political science, is currently in Baltimore after finishing her fieldwork in Turkey and England. Kahraman recently discovered she’s one of the TAs on the chopping block.

“I’m at the point where I have to decide whether I have to take out loans to come to Seattle or just give up on the program,” she said.

Via The Daily

Kahraman also entertained the idea of deferring her graduation for another year.

“If I don’t come to Seattle next year,” she said, “I don’t think I can find a job or graduate.”

Kahraman’s fieldwork took two years under the department, and just finished three years of what is referred to as “research leave.” Fortunately, the College of Arts and Sciences allows five years of guaranteed funding, which left Kahraman thinking she could come back and finish her degree. Little did she know, the department now considers her research leave to count for a part of the five years. This means she is no longer guaranteed funding to go to school.

But Kahraman’s research leave was entirely separate from the university, and was funded by grants.

“The five-year guaranteed funding doesn’t really mean anything for students like me, who do field work abroad,” she said. “The average [number of] years to finish a Ph.D. for the program is six. … Abroad, it usually takes seven years, so five years doesn’t mean anything for us.”

Susanne Recordon, a graduate student adviser within the political science department, said graduate students have always been able to apply for an extension. 

“All of these situations are usually complex and we support as many people as we can,” Recordon said. “Extension depends on available funds or what their situation is.”

She also said that in the moment money is gone, the department has to prioritize, and funding extensions for students beyond the five years have narrowed due to the budget cuts. 

“It’s just a shame that grad students aren’t supported more by the central administration,” Recordon said. 

Kahraman also noted that she’s a student on a green card. Fortunately, she’s married, but if she wasn’t, losing her TA job would also mean losing her legal immigrant status. 

Another graduate student, Caterina Rost, found out she was pregnant just a couple of days before the first March notification of TA cuts. An international student from Germany, Rost won’t have access to health care for her pregnancy if she doesn’t have a job. She has been in contact with George Lovell, chair of political science, who Rost says is trying hard to make things work.

“You’re supposed to relax and not stress yourself out when you’re pregnant,” Rost said.

Graduates are pointing to the implementation of activity-based budgeting as the reason for the cuts and budget issues, but activity-based budgeting has been around since 2012. 

Sarah Hall, the UW’s associate vice provost, confirmed that the College of Arts and Sciences has received more permanent budgets than others at the UW. 

“However, these allocations over the past five fiscal years do not necessarily mean that the college has sufficient funds in the future to meet expenditure demands,” Hall said in an email. “In order to deploy funds thoughtfully and in response to student needs, the College of Arts and Sciences allocates funds for TAs to the areas in the college that are demonstrating the most student demand.”

This demand is enumerated through student credit hours. When these hours decline, so does that department’s budget. Records show, however, that activity-based budgeting allocations for the College of Arts and Sciences has increased every year since 2012. 

Departments seeing cuts include international studies, geography, comparative literature, and sociology.

Michael Reagan, a graduate student who organized protests around TA cuts yesterday, said both Robert Stacey, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Provost Gerald Baldasty had relayed to him in person that they’re increasing funding to the College of Arts and Sciences.

“But if that’s the case, then why are there these cuts?” Reagan asked. “We’re essentially laying people off. If they themselves are saying that, then it gives them very little ground to actually have a justification for these things.”

“Provost Baldasty committed additional funds in FY17 to help the college maintain TA positions, but these funds (and thus, positions) will still be allocated to areas of student demand, per normal practice,” Hall said in an email, listing science majors as an example.

“These cuts punish the most vulnerable among us,” Reagan said in a petition, “and those least responsible for the budget shortfalls in the College of Arts and Sciences.”

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