Semester contracts create uncertainty concerning spring graduate assistantships

By Cory Ray, @coryray_DE

The introduction of semester-long graduate contracts may spell trouble for SIUC graduate students.

John Flowers, president of GAUnited, said most graduate assistant contracts typically were offered for one academic year in the past, but rising uncertainty surrounding the state budget has led to the introduction of semester-based contracts. SIU System President Randy Dunn said most graduate assistants are currently in semester-based contracts.

If departments decide not to renew some semester-based contracts in the spring, Flowers said it could be devastating to graduate students at SIUC.


“The offering of the semester-long contracts is a new development that has introduced a fairly large level of uncertainty and insecurity among graduate students,” Flower said. “Many of them don’t know if they can afford to attend school next semester, if they can afford to continue with their graduate school education and many of them are unsure what they can do to resolve this situation.”

Graduate students use stipends from assistantships as a way to support their educations, but if graduate students’ do not receive such assistantships, they would have to find jobs or another mode of support to continue their education. Flowers said for some, the loss of a contract may result in graduate students leaving SIUC or end their graduate studies. The situation is made worse being mid-way through the academic year, as the availability of alternative funding is limited during this period.

“This is not a situation unique to the graduate students,” Flowers said. “This is a situation that concerns the entire campus.”

As graduate students teach many introductory undergraduate courses, Flowers said a lack of graduate assistants constitute a large part of the teaching staff at SIUC. The lack would also mean that faculty could possibly be spread thin to make up gaps. 

GAUnited is also advocating for international students, as many fund their education through assistantships, which allow them to study in the U.S.

In April this year, a hold was placed on graduate assistant contracts. Flowers said any contracts not already processed were put on hold because of insecurities of state funding. Following the freeze, semester-based contracts were given to graduate students based on the need to cover courses taught by graduate students.

Flowers said the introduction of the semester-based contracts came after the contract freeze.


Lyle White, dean of the College of Education, said the entirety of the College of Education’s $191,000 cut comes from graduate contracts that were not committed after April 1.

White said the cut ensured that programs within the College of Education would not be affected.

The cut is nonrecurring and only applicable for this fiscal year.

“Next year, we’re hoping that we’ll have the same funding that we had from the state that we had for fiscal year [2016],” White said. “We hope we’ll have that in fiscal year [2017] and be able to spend all that towards graduate assistants.”

The uncertainty surrounding graduate assistant contracts coincides with Dunn’s statement that graduate students could be seeing some of the roughest cuts.

The renewal of contracts is a departmental decision as every college decides on the appointment of graduate assistantships, rather than the university as a whole. 

“As we head into late fall, we’re going to have to make a very tough decision with what we do about contracting GA’s for the spring semester,” Dunn said. “That is a group that is going to have to get carefully, carefully looked at as we go into spring.”

Enrollment figures show graduate students at the university have decreased by 7.17 percent — almost double the university’s 3.87 percent total enrollment decrease.

“The offering of the semester-long contracts has made a difficult situation a little bit worse,” Flowers said. 

Cory Ray can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @coryray_DE