Dozens of graduate students marched from the Lawn to Madison Hall Friday protesting their alleged late or incomplete payments from the University. Leaders of the University chapter of the United Campus Workers of Virginia then met inside Madison Hall with Ian Baucom, executive vice president and provost, where they demanded further University response.
As the protestors gathered in the rain outside of New Cabell Hall and marched through the inclement weather to Madison Hall, they chanted “cut the checks,” among other union and protest chants. The group, primarily composed of graduate students, was also joined by several undergraduates and faculty members.
Protestors carried signs reading slogans such as “no grad workers means no U.Va.” and “looking for a living wage.” After gathering at Madison Hall and delivering speeches, several of the protestors went inside to speak with Baucom. According to members of the delegation, Baucom was open to hearing from the group but did not commit to any tangible changes in staffing or financial management.
In March, the University chapter of UCW-Va. chapter sent a letter to University leaders, alleging that many graduate students’ paychecks had been delayed. The administration responded by claiming that Student Financial Services had not found any continued disruption in wages. Administration also created a task force to communicate with the union and student representatives, as they had requested.
Laura Ornée, UCW-VA U.Va. chapter chair and graduate student, said in an interview after the protest that better infrastructure needs to be in place to avoid a repeat of the issue, and the University's task force has failed to address areas which the organization feel are necessary to ensure wage security.
“What we don’t want is for this to be put on staff who are already overworked and underpaid,” Ornée said. “So we are demanding that Provost Baucom and the task force commit actual resources to this and hire more people to do this work.”
The rally organizers said many graduate students who work as teaching assistants and research assistants have reported receiving paychecks late on several occasions. Wages for December also allegedly came late for multiple graduate students, many of whom said they were forced to drastically adjust their budget in order to pay rent.
Olivia Paschal, second-year graduate College student, said she was fortunate enough to receive her stipend before her rent was due, but thinks that the issue represents something more than just administrative errors, but rather a pattern of poor treatment of graduate workers. She also said that there is an overarching issue with the decline of jobs in academia, which has detrimental effects on the treatment of graduate workers.
“Allegedly, we're here to be trained for academic jobs, [but] those jobs don't exist,” she said. “And so the excuse that we're students being trained for a job really falls flat when there are no jobs, and most of us are here because we really care about our research."
Walter Heinicke, associate professor at the School of Education and Human Development, recognized the importance of graduate labor, saying in his speech to the protestors that the University's failure to deliver timely payments contradicts its 2030 “Great and Good” plan to become the top public university.
“A great university recognizes values and honors their graduate research assistants,” Heinicke said. “A good university pays them on time.”
Crystalina Peterson, a first-year graduate College student from the Bridge to the Doctorate program — a group with many members affected by the December wage delays — played a key role in organizing the rally and was a member of the delegation that met with the provost. She said she was pleased by the protest’s turnout, which numbered around 70 according to the Union.
Peterson added that while she did not see the Provost commit to any concrete action during their meeting, the sheer number of people who came to support the cause showed the power of collective action. She said that in the coming months, the Union will see how the University’s task force responds to its requests, but may hold another similar delegation with University leaders in future.
“We would like the University’s values and how they value us as graduate workers to be reflected in where they’re allocating their resources,” she said. “That’s all we’re asking.”