LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Graduate students at the University of Kentucky are continuing to push for major changes as dozens called into the offices of the president and provost on Wednesday.
United Campus Workers of Kentucky, a union for campus workers in Kentucky, organized the "Phone Zap" event. It's an attempt to keep the phone lines busy to draw more attention toward their demands for higher pay, health care benefits, and fair treatment.
Graduate Instructor Rachel Davis says it's an effort to get make wages more livable considering the demands of the job.
"I feel exploited, and I think that's a common feeling among all the graduate workers here," said Davis. "It's really difficult to handle unexpected expenses like a repair for your car or if you need a dental cleaning."
Davis says inflation makes the situation even worse- with some students with families needing to use food stamps to afford food.
She works part-time as a Ph.D. candidate and instructor for around $17-18,000 a year. With all the time she puts in for research and instruction, she says there's none left over for another job.
"What we're trying to do is just show President Capilouto and Provost DiPaola that we're struggling and there are people that care about us and that we deserve a living wage, but at the very least we need a raise," said Davis.
More than 600 people have already signed the union's petition detailing specific requests, which include a goal of a $20,000 base salary for grad students.
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The university pays grad instructors' tuition, and some colleges did give grad students a 10% raise in 2021. Jay Blanton, Director of Public Relations says it's something they're always evaluating.
"Our graduate students are important members of our community and, in so many ways, the future leaders of higher education. We take their welfare and advancement seriously. Issues of compensation for graduate students, who work as instructors and in other academic capacities, can be complicated as decisions on stipends are made at the college by college level and discipline by discipline. And those certainly vary depending upon a host of factors. However, over the last year and again this year the university has incentivized colleges to increase funds for graduate students as we know how valuable these young scholars are to the university as current teachers and as future faculty," said Blanton in a statement.
Davis says that doesn't address their issues of inequity and wage compression. They plan to rally and deliver their petition on April 20.
"For multiple of us to be calling in with the same message, I think is really powerful and I hope it gets the message across to President Capilouto," said Davis.