Mizzou grad workers need fair pay

September 24, 2015

Grad student workers at the University of Missouri are central to the school's functioning. So why aren't they being paid a living wage, asks a writer from Missouri?

THE CRY is a frequent one, made by everyone from university administrators to middle managers to CEOs: "We just can't fit it in the budget." For graduate workers here at the University of Missouri, that cry has fallen on deaf ears.

The University of Missouri (MU) School of Medicine Dean Patrick Delafontaine resigned September 21 after less than a year on the job. The golden parachute compensation packet for leaving this position? Delafontaine will receive $1.2 million from MU, a guaranteed $600,000 per year for the first two years on the job. The figure includes pay Delafontaine has earned since he started at MU.

Delafontaine's departure comes a few months after MU kicked off significant health-related projects. In July, the School of Medicine began its $42.5 million expansion project that includes a new medical school building at MU and a Springfield clinical campus. Additionally, MU Health Care began construction in June on a $40 million, four-story Missouri Orthopaedic Institute expansion.

Graduate employees organizing at the University of Missouri
Graduate employees organizing at the University of Missouri

As with many public universities across the country, the bloated salaries of administrators come at a high price. A recent survey released by the Chronicle of Higher Education examined pay for chief executives at 220 public universities and school systems. It found the median salary for presidents who served a full year was $428,250. At the University of Missouri, the average salary for a dean is $240,000 per year. This does not include bonuses.

The total estimate for salaries of the Dean's Council totals $3.2 million. MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin is one of two public college presidents paid over $1 million in annual salary. Loftin, the former Texas A&M president, earned $1.1 million. Most of that was a severance of $850,000 that was paid out in 2014, the survey said. His 2014-15 salary at Missouri was $450,000, according to a university database.

THE OPULENT salaries of Mizzou administrators are matched only by their blatant disregard for the graduate workers that make undergraduate programs function. According to representatives from the Coalition of Graduate Workers at Mizzou:

MU's minimum compensation is $12,100 on a nine-month, half-time contract; in contrast, a living wage for a single person in Boone County is--according to the MIT Living Wage calculator--an after-tax income of $18,102. Many graduate workers on quarter-time appointments are living well below the state and federal poverty lines. Undergraduates at MU deserve a world-class education, and the citizens of this state deserve a world-class research institution. But these goals can't be achieved while graduate workers are being paid starvation wages.

A Republican-dominated state house in Missouri has sought to destroy any remnants of trade unions in Missouri with its constant barrage of right-to-work (also known as "right to starve") legislation.

While Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon did recently veto this legislation and celebrated it as a victory for "workers, families and businesses here in Missouri," the Republicans struck a major blow to working-class Missourians by passing legislation that slashes unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 13 weeks. Additionally, they passed a bill over Nixon's veto that limits A+ scholarships to community colleges to citizens and legal residents of the state.

The Coalition of Graduate Workers (CGW) is fighting for collective bargaining rights for Mizzou graduate workers. This struggle has the potential to raise the standard of living for not just graduate workers at Mizzou, but for all of the 24,000 state employees within the University of Missouri system.

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