Grad students win benefits

Graduate students at Florida A&M University have a reason to celebrate after finding out they will receive increased stipends and full insurance coverage beginning in the fall.

The new benefits and contract are a result of negotiations between the Graduate Assistants United – the graduate students’ union – and a Board of Trustees bargaining committee.

The base salary for graduate assistants will move from $7,000 to $8,000 per school year.

FAMU-GAU Co-President Johnique Billups explained that the contract between the University and the graduate assistants is supposed to be negotiated every three years but had not been renewed since 2005.

“Negotiating a new contract was difficult at first because of the change in leadership and the other issues happening at the school,” Billups said. “A new contract for the graduate employees had to wait until other things were taken care of by the school.”

The benefits of the newly negotiated contract will aid current graduate assistants. They will receive a two percent increase in Friday’s next paycheck.

“The two percent increase in stipends was a compromise of both parties,” Billups said. “We were not able to negotiate retroactive pay. We felt that getting healthcare was a bigger issue.”

Chanta Haywood, dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research and member of the Board of Trustees bargaining committee, said the wellbeing of graduate assistants was important.

“We have always believed that healthy graduate students are imperative for the health of our graduate programs and research outcomes,” Haywood said. “Dr. Ammons’ approval of insurance coverage shows how much of a priority research is to him.  This is a major step forward in graduate education at FAMU.”

Some graduate assistants have been anxious for the arrival of the contracts.

“I have waited almost five years for this contract,” said Adrienne Stephenson, a pharmacology and toxicology doctoral student. “We really needed the healthcare. I am happy about the stipend increase; it puts us in a bracket where our stipends are comparable with other schools in the state of Florida.”

The FAMU-GAU will now join the University of Florida and University of South Florida as the only three universities in the state to have won major bargaining gains with health benefits and increased stipends for graduate students.

“Once the contract is ratified by GAU and the Board of Trustees, the University must honor it, regardless of budget cuts,” Billups said. ” Having healthcare and a higher minimum stipend will recruit more talented graduate students to FAMU.”

The GAU has yet to pick a health insurance provider, but a graduate employee will sit on the advisory committee that will choose a provider, Billups said.

The new contract still has to be approved by the graduate employees for it to take effect. Voting booths will be set up Feb. 19 – 20 in Perry-Paige and the Tucker Hall Science Research building.  The contract will be available for viewing at the polling sites.

Final voting will take place at the GAU meeting Feb. 21 in Room 211 in the New Pharmacy building at 6 p.m.  GAU can be reached by e-mail at