UW–Madison formalizes graduate assistantship policy, continues investment in graduate assistants

A new policy document released this week provides formal guidance on employment-related matters for graduate student teaching and project assistants and their supervisors. Consistent with university values of shared decision making, the document comes out of a two-year collaborative process involving graduate students, faculty, staff, and administration.

The Graduate Assistantship Policies and Procedures (GAPP) document covers practices that are already established at UW–Madison, including TA and PA appointment letters, probationary periods, job orientation and training, performance evaluations, and leave benefits. With the publication of this document, these practices are now formally documented as campus policy.

In addition to benefiting from new, transparent policies, graduate assistants have seen significant increases in stipends in the last six years. Stipends are up 42% for teaching assistants, 30% for project assistants, and 22% for research assistants since 2013. The 2019-20 increase, to $20,000 for 50% academic year TA appointments, places UW–Madison above the estimated Association of American Universities (AAU) peer median. Graduate assistants also receive full tuition remission, valued at approximately $15,000 annually, and eligibility for benefits like health insurance.

“The increased investment in graduate assistant stipends in recent years is one way that we demonstrate how essential TAs, PAs, and RAs are to the university,” stated Graduate School Dean William J. Karpus. “The new GAPP document also provides the benefit of clear employment policies to protect student employees and guide the important work they do to advance the mission of our university.”

Formerly, TA and PA employment policies and procedures were included in a labor contract between the Teaching Assistants’ Association and the State of Wisconsin, which expired as a result of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10. The university had continued to honor the terms of the contract with limited exceptions. However, the expired contract language did not adequately address the policy needs of graduate employees, and campus leadership charged a workgroup to transition procedures from the contract into the new GAPP document.

The GAPP workgroup continues to develop the grievance process associated with these policies, intended for completion in summer 2019. Appropriate committees will be appointed to address future needs related to graduate assistant employment. Policies covering research assistantships will be added later, after further consideration of the nature of these appointments and requirements of extramural grant sponsors.

“I greatly appreciate the commitment of the GAPP workgroup, as well as the many other stakeholders who contributed,” Karpus said. “This was a complex project, but the outcome will have a long-standing, positive impact on graduate students.”

The Graduate Assistantship Policies and Procedures is available on the Office of Human Resources website.

Graduate students and supervisors are encouraged to connect with their local human resources offices with any questions about employment policy.