I. Funding public education in Wisconsin
Public education has been under attack for the last half century. The Wisconsin State Legislature continues to pass austerity budgets that starve public institutions at the same time that they pass regressive tax plans that funnel the majority of wealth created in our society to a select few. As a result, state institutions like the University of Wisconsin–Madison cut resources to its student population and workforce, accept large donations from private corporations with known human rights abuses and unfair labor practices, and raise costs like out-of-state tuition and other fees. Our administrators prioritize the projects that will attract outside funding like new recreation facilities or Engineering buildings while increasingly forcing the cost of running the university onto its students and workers. Currently, state funding on a per capita basis is below $7,000 per full time equivalent (FTE) student, the lowest it has been since the establishment of the UW System in 1973. To restore funding even to Republican Governor Tommy Thompson’s last budget from 2001, the state should budget for at least $10,000 per student. Students have the right to debt-free higher education—we must fight to be a state that prioritizes equitable funding for public education.
Although the UW System has been facing austerity budgets, UW–Madison has the capacity to pay graduate workers a fair income and to cover our mandatory fees. UW–Madison budgets are moral statements—our administrators must compensate graduate workers for doing the majority of instruction and research on campus.
II. Restoring meaningful shared governance to the UW System
All students and workers should be allowed to participate in meaningful shared governance that goes beyond an advisory role. Our universities should model the democracy we expect our society to be. Students at UW–Madison and universities across the state should have the right to oversee the collection and disposition of student fees.
Wisconsin’s 2015–17 Biennial Budget—signed into law on July 12, 2015—included a provision that made formal shared governance structures in the UW System “subordinate to the responsibilities and powers” of our administrators. The Associated Students of Madison should have the authority to determine how to collect and distribute segregated fees—our administrators should not be able to unilaterally raise these fees to pay for new construction. Faculty Senate should have the responsibility for academic and educational activities, not our administrators.
III. Rescinding the international student fee
International students already pay higher tuition than both local and out-of-state students. These students are not allowed to work beyond 50% employment on campus and are restricted from working off campus. The spouses of international students on F1 visas—the majority of international students—are not allowed to work at all.
In April 2015, the UW Board of Regents increased the annual tuition rate for international students at UW–Madison by $4,000—the first time they raised tuition for international students above the tuition for out-of-state students. The stated justification for this hike was that the cost of monitoring, counseling, and advising international students was higher than other groups of students. For the 2015–16 academic year, the International Student Services added a $75 fee each term for international students. During the 2017–18 academic year, this fee climbed to $100 per term.
The international student fee is an extra burden on international students. These students are already paying tuitions higher than their peers—they should not have to pay additional fees to cover unjust monitoring. This fee is an inequitable way for the university to balance its budget on the backs of international students.
IV. Respecting the labor of all graduate workers
The university currently only recognizes teaching assistants, project assistants, research assistants, and lecturer / student assistants as graduate workers at UW–Madison. We believe that all graduate students who must perform work during the course of their studies—including students in professional programs—should have the right to organize themselves and seek benefits from the university.
V. Earning fair pay as graduate workers
A Teaching Assistant with a 33% appointment takes home $1,345.67 each month pre-tax. This is before paying for rent, groceries, and other living necessities. On top of this, domestic graduate workers are required to pay $1,260 each year in mandatory fees, while international graduate workers are required to pay $1,460 each year in mandatory fees. When all is said and done, a domestic TA with a 33% appointment (AY salary of $12,233) gives 1 out of every 10 dollars they make back to the university in the form of mandatory fees. These fees cut into our take-home pay in sometimes significant ways—in our 2018 survey, graduate students cited having to choose between mandatory fees and medical procedures, between mandatory fees and a warm meal for their families. No one should have to make those decisions.
The TAA is committed to fighting for fair pay and quality of life for graduate workers, so that graduate workers are not forced to choose between purchasing the things they need and paying university fees.
VI. Covering mandatory fees for graduate workers
Graduate workers demand that UW–Madison cover the mandatory fees that fund student services without increasing the financial burden on undergraduates. Mandatory fees include both segregated student fees (currently $630/semester) and international student service fees (currently $100/semester). While UW–Madison commits to covering 0% of mandatory fees, many of our peer institutions—UC Berkeley, Michigan State, Indiana, Penn State—cover all or almost all of these fees for graduate workers, making this an issue of both financial consequence and institutional competitiveness. Covering mandatory fees will not significantly impact the budget of UW-Madison, as segregated fees for graduate workers account for only 0.21 percent of the revenue for UW–Madison, according to Chancellor Blank’s UW–Madison Budget in Brief and the UW–Madison Graduate School Office of Academic Planning and Assessment.
Mandatory fees are racist and sexist
A 2018 report on college debt authored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that women hold two-thirds of the country’s $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. More specifically, Black women have by far the most outstanding student debt after college graduation compared with both white men and white women. Moreover, women take longer to repay their student loans after graduation due to the gender pay gap, which is further exacerbated for Black and Latinx women. Demanding that graduate workers pay mandatory fees, after many have already gone tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pursue higher education, serves as a financial barrier for minoritized students in regards to equitable representation in, access to, and graduation from graduate degree programs.
As a school that claims to value diversity and inclusion for historically underrepresented students, UW–Madison should cover mandatory fees on principle in accordance with their stated values, and continuing to refuse to do so represents a further continuation of social practices that further entrench patriarchal and white supremacist norms in higher education.
The TAA demands that mandatory fees, including international student fees, be covered by the university without shifting the financial burden onto undergraduates.