A Fair Contract for ASEs Must Address Their Unique Needs

As a faculty member, I’m grateful to the Academic Student Employees (ASEs) without whose commitment and work (in grading papers, teaching quiz sections, advising students) I would not be able to teach many of my classes. In my department, we rely on ASEs to meet our curricular needs. Every day, ASEs balance the enormous challenges of graduate education and the demands of academic instruction and research. They struggle financially to support themselves and their families in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the United States. We limit ASEs to being part-time employees because we want them to focus on their studies, but economic insecurity can create real challenges for maintaining such focus. Our university should take all necessary steps to guarantee that ASEs thrive and excel as both students and employees. Waiving the cost of all fees is an important step toward that goal.

I agree with President Cauce and Provost Baldasty in their recent blog post that ASEs are a unique group of employees among the UW workforce because they are both students and employees. Their working conditions, then, are different from other university workers. ASEs must be enrolled as students to have their jobs, and so must pay fees that other employees do not. They are excluded from certain benefits that faculty and staff receive such as PEBB Insurance, the UW Retirement Plan, other retirement benefits, and paid sick leave. Instead, ASEs and the UW Administration have bargained other benefits such as the Graduate Appointee Insurance Program (GAIP), some paid and unpaid medical leave, and the waiver of some fees — the Building Fee, the Operating Fee, and the Technology Fee — to meet their specific needs.

To my understanding, all ASEs are asking for is that UW expand the fee waiver benefit they already have bargained so that the remaining fees they are required to pay (IMA Bond Fee, the Facilities Renovation Fee, the Services and Activities Fee, and the UPass Fee — a value of $951 per year) are also waived or remitted. The ASEs I know are just trying to make ends meet.

ASEs contribute to the university in so many different, creative ways, but most importantly they make our campus a diverse community. The skyrocketing cost of living in the Puget Sound region is driving many potential graduate students away from our campus. My involvement in the graduate admissions process in my department and the prospective candidates to whom we make offers but lose each year to other institutions, leaves me in no doubt that we have an urgent need to offset the exorbitant costs of living in this area. These economic trends most adversely affect people of color, first-generation graduate students, women, immigrants, international students, and members of the LGBTQ communities. Finding a way to make graduate education more affordable and therefore inclusive of as diverse a group of student employees as possible only helps advance one of the major strengths of the President and Provost’s administration: the promotion of “equity and justice as we build a vibrant and inclusive community of excellence.”

Helping ASEs achieve greater economic stability not only fairly rewards the essential contribution they make to UW accomplishing its mission, but helps promote a more diverse and equitable present and future academy.