A new draft of university-wide policies for research assistants (RAs), obtained by the TAA, falls short of guaranteeing fair treatment in the workplace. Designed to be part of the Graduate Assistant Policies and Procedures (GAPP) handbook, which currently excludes RAs and graduate lecturers (LSAs), these draft policies ignore two years of GAPP workgroup discussions with the TAA in favor of unilateral decisions by the administration.
In the draft policies, advising professors are given a considerable amount of leeway in determining the duties of RAs. Every year, the TAA’s Contract Enforcement Committee (CEC) hears from graduate workers who are expected to perform inappropriate duties such as babysitting children or going on coffee runs. These new policies do nothing to protect against such situations.
Furthermore, administrators seem to believe that it is impossible to overwork a research assistant. There are no guarantees that work will be kept under 20 hours for 50% appointments — even for international students, who face legal work restrictions — and RAs may not file grievances for overwork. If an RA believes their workplace rights have been violated, this draft policy would make them file a written request with their supervisor for a revision of duties before filing a grievance with the University — an additional burden not placed on TAs or PAs.
Meanwhile, LSAs remain cut out of the GAPP document entirely. Graduate students teach courses as the instructor of record across the University, yet the administration refuses to provide them with protection from overwork or allow them a voice in developing and reviewing workplace policies. It is unclear why the administration continues to treat LSAs as categorically different workers undeserving of any standardized policies or procedures.
The RA policies under consideration are under active review and development by a group of administrators — a group that conspicuously excludes graduate workers themselves. This exclusion is a violation of workers’ right to workplace democracy, and yet another example of the failure of UW–Madison’s administration to respect the University’s long tradition of shared governance. The TAA’s platform includes the establishment of a standing shared committee to continually review and improve workplace policies for graduate workers.
RAs and LSAs are workers, and the TAA will continue to fight for quality policies and workplace democracy for all types of graduate workers. If you are concerned about inadequate workplace protections for RAs and LSAs, we want to hear from you. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.