Board of Govs Should Treat Grad Assistants Fairly

Graduate Assistants UNITED, a union for graduate assistants at the University of Rhode Island, will be paying close attention to decisions made tonight by the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education. After an upsetting and unexpected rejection of their contract as well as all other contracts related to higher education this past Spring, the Board of Governors have decided to reconsider GAU’s contract in an executive session tonight. I’m the GAU’s newly elected President and a graduate student in political science at the University of Rhode Island and here’s the letter imploring the board to decide in their favor.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board of Governors,

My name is Danielle Dirocco. I am a graduate assistant at the University of Rhode Island and the new President of Graduate Assistants UNITED (GAU) at the University of Rhode Island.

It is with great hope and anticipation that I write to you today, the day that the Board reconsiders the contract for University of Rhode Island’s Graduate Assistants UNITED. First and foremost, thank you for doing so. The GAU is a unique organization that at first glance may appear to some to be a sub-group of the professor’s union, but this is not the case. The GAU is an independent union that is comprised of nearly 600 graduate students who provide services to the University in exchange for the opportunity to attend graduate school that, for many, would otherwise be inaccessible due to the barrier of rising tuition costs.

I am one of those very students. My stipend, (roughly equivalent to minimum wage), is what I depend on to stay afloat while I attend school. I am proud to say that I am a lifelong Rhode Islander, a first generation college graduate, and a single mother.  Without a reasonable stipend, graduate school would simply be impossible for me to attend. I realize that $5-600 dollars may seem like nothing, but I assure you, it makes an enormous difference to a student like me. Every little bit counts. It could contribute to the cost of childcare so I can attend class. It could be used to mitigate the cost of textbooks in a semester. It could put a dent in transportation costs to get to and from class and to the recitations that I teach as part of my responsibilities associated with my assistantship.  It could even go to the ever-increasing budget necessary to begin paying down over $60,000 in student loans that I incurred as an undergraduate and in the first year of graduate school here at the University of Rhode Island.

I implore you to recognize that GAU students provide vital educational services to fellow students, faculty and the administration at the university. We are proud to be considered a critical component to many departments on campus. We teach recitations, grade papers and examinations, provide direct support to students, and generally act as intermediaries between the faculty and the student body.

As I am sure you are aware, our funding comes primarily from grants and from departmental budgets. Approving our contracts will not cost the state of Rhode Island a single additional cent.  We simply need your approval to release funds that are already set aside to provide this modest increase in wages to our aspiring students who go above and beyond the call of duty to contribute to the university.

As you know, it is becoming more and more difficult for students to find their way to a better, brighter future through higher education. Tuition hikes, decreased funding and skyrocketing student debt have left many of us wondering if we’ll ever be able to gain access to the same opportunities of those who came before us.  This small increase that the GAU has worked so hard for would cast a small light of hope into the darkness that has descended upon higher education in America today. It would show that the Rhode Island Board of Governors of Higher Education recognizes that the GAU is an independent organization whose interests simply address the needs of graduate students who are trying to do the right thing and get a fair shake.

Thank you to all of you for reconsideration.

Danielle Dirocco

President, Graduate Assistants UNITED

Graduate Assistant, Political Science

University of Rhode Island

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Danielle is currently a graduate assistant in political science at the University of Rhode Island. She is the President of Graduate Assistants United, an independent chapter of the AAUP at URI. She is currently working as a summer organizer with Ocean State Action. As a lifelong Rhode Islander, Danielle is committed to doing her part to help make the Ocean State a leader in Progressive politics.

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