April 22, 2022
Over the last few weeks, I have received questions from faculty members asking for clarification about several issues related to our Student Academic Appointees, about our obligations to our undergraduate students, and about past actions taken to improve SAA positions. In this message, I want to provide you with some details about past actions that have been taken to improve graduate education and the SAA positions; a summary of recent actions that we have committed to this semester; some plans to engage with our SAAs, and with information about our existing faculty policies and their implementation.
I have heard from many of you about your experiences and your efforts to improve graduate education and SAA positions in your department. The more I hear, the more I understand that for many years, faculty members, program directors, department chairs, deans, campus and university leaders, have worked deliberatively and incrementally toward improving graduate education and SAA positions. Here are a few examples:
- In Fall 2016, the Luddy School of Informatics eliminated the school’s unremittable fee; the same action was adopted in the College of Arts and Sciences, Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design, Media School, Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, School of Public Health, and School of Optometry, all in 2020; in the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the School of Education in 2021; and in the Jacobs School of Music, effective July 1, 2022.
- In 2020, one-third of SAA stipends were below an $18,000 rate for 0.50FTE 10-month positions. By fall 2022, 100% of SAA stipends will be at or above $18,000 rate for 0.50FTE 10-month positions. The School of Public Health raised their minimum stipend to $20,000 in 2021; the School of Optometry minimum increased to $22,000 in 2015; and the O’Neill School Public Affairs PhD stipend minimums increased to $19,000 in 2021.
- In 2015, the SAA health insurance deductible was lowered from $500 to $0 and IU pays all premiums for the insured SAA. Also in 2015, the insurance coverage expanded to include vision, life insurance, and care.com benefits. Over time, the Vice Provost for Graduate Education and the elected Graduate and Professional Student Government have worked with IU Human Resources to lower the direct costs to SAAs. SAAs receive the same health insurance coverage as IU full-time faculty and staff but they pay no premium and no deductible.
- To better support student needs, new staff members have been added at the Walter Career Center, the Grad Grants Center, and in school advising offices and these colleagues are specialists in graduate and professional student support services. And GPSG representatives are working right now with Dr. Aaron Carroll’s Mental Health Task Force to identify needed improvements in mental health and counseling services.
These are just a few examples of how graduate students, faculty members, chairpersons, deans, vice provosts, university vice presidents, and all of us have been working together to make positive change over many years. More examples of this change can be reviewed on this website.
Despite these past efforts, there is work still to be done to further improve our graduate students’ experience at IU. I am committed to continuing this important work and to holding conversations with our graduate students, as well as fellow faculty members, through our multiple existing shared governance organizations. It will take all of us working together as faculty, mentors and with the students themselves to truly make meaningful improvements. I also recognize that our past incremental improvements have not been universal nor linear, but rather, because they are linked to our decentralized budgeting and academic mentoring structures for graduate education, these vary by discipline, department, and school. This is why, on the advice of faculty and staff members this spring, we announced a 5% stipend increase for all SAAs, a new campus-wide minimum stipend rate of $18,000, and more flexibility in using tuition waivers.
This week, I also announced the creation of a taskforce comprised of faculty and student representatives to examine the future of graduate education. Our SAAs should be directly engaged in this effort and help us develop plans to improve all aspects of their work and educational experience. And, as is the spring custom for the provost, I have invited the new GPSG elected leadership to lunch to get to know these student leaders and hear about their plans for the coming year. I look forward to meeting them next week and to working with them over the course of the next year.I also look forward to continuing to talk directly with our Student Academic Appointees.
We all agree that IU’s graduate students are a key piece of our teaching, learning, and research mission. I am confident that we, working together as the faculty, have the processes in place to continue making improvements to the graduate student experience at IU Bloomington.
Faculty Policies on Student Academic Appointees
Vice Provost Eliza Pavalko’s message on April 12 outlined the policies and procedures that we as faculty have long followed when it comes to our teaching responsibilities. Given student academic appointees’ role in teaching at IU, they too fall under these same policies, and face the same consequences when agreed upon responsibilities fail to be completed. Many of us received a detailed email from the “Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition-United Electrical Workers” that attempted to establish various rules for faculty members in meetings with graduate students. I have received several requests for advice on how to interpret this email. In short, it does not apply to us.
The United Electrical Workers union is not the university nor a university-recognized organization. The UEW cannot and does not set standards for how faculty and graduate students interact. Rather, the policies for graduate students who have teaching responsibilities are established by IU faculty, and they can be found, for instance, within the IU faculty’s Code of Academic Ethics. These faculty policies unequivocally state that all instructors – full-time faculty, part-time faculty, and SAAs – must adhere to the stated goals and purposes of a course, to teach it at the scheduled time, and to provide evaluation of students (i.e., grades) at the time specified by faculty policy. The faculty-approved due process afforded to SAAs who are suspended, terminated, or not reappointed to their positions is outlined in the Student Academic Appointees Guide.
Thank you again to those of you who have reached out already to share your experiences and efforts to improve graduate education and the SAA positions in your department. I sincerely appreciate these efforts. The end of the semester is always a difficult and demanding time and given our current challenge, I am especially grateful for those faculty members and SAAs who are working tirelessly to ensure that student instructional obligations, including holding classes and submitting grades on time, are met.
Provost and Executive Vice President