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The Graduate School increased stipends for students working as teaching assistants by 8.4 percent this academic year, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler announced this week.

The raise, which brings teaching assistant salaries to as much as $7,760 per semester, will not affect graduate students in their first five years, when teaching assistant pay is included in a fixed annual stipend of $17,000.

The increase shrinks the gap between students in the first five years and students in their sixth year or beyond who this year will earn University pay ranging from $1,940 to $7,760 per semester by working as teaching assistants. Last year, graduate teaching assistants earned between $1,790 and $7,160 per semester.

“It actually slightly closes the gap for students who are no longer on stipend,” Butler said. “Let’s put it this way: in a stagnant economy, we raised teaching fellow rates 8.4 percent.”

Many graduate students applauded the administration’s efforts to increase teaching assistant pay, but said it is likely to remain difficult to manage on the stipend alone.

“Obviously it wasn’t a living wage and cost of living is ever-increasing,” said Ariel Watson GRD ’08, a teaching assistant in the English Department. “Obviously, everybody is pleased with getting a raise.”

Jeff Glover GRD ’08, another English Department teaching assistant, said he welcomes the raise, but worries about making ends meet once he enters his sixth year and no longer qualifies for the automatic $17,000 stipend.

“I am concerned about the sixth year, especially given the fact that at that point people have families and people have children,” Glover said.

The Graduate Employees and Students Organization, which has been trying to unionize graduate students, made teaching assistant pay equity one of its chief platform issues last academic year. GESO Chairwoman Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said the pay raise is a sign of the administration responding to GESO’s pleas.

“That’s wonderful news,” Reynolds said. “I think it shows that the administration is responding, particularly to those grievances that we filed in the spring.”

The change was made only in part in response to GESO, Butler said; the Graduate School regularly increases teaching assistant stipends.

Last spring, GESO filed pay equity grievances with the University. Butler forwarded the grievances to the Graduate School’s Executive Committee, which is comprised of students and administrators, Reynolds said. She said she hopes the committee will review the grievances this fall.

“Particularly in the humanities departments, GESO is still pursuing pay equity,” Reynolds said.

In February, the Graduate School increased the flat stipend for students in the first five years by 6.25 percent, from $16,000 to $17,000.