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Provost’s blog

Agreement reached with UAW academic student employees

I am pleased to announce that we reached an agreement with UAW Local 4121 for a successor contract for academic student employees that the members subsequently voted to ratify. The three-year agreement is effective May 19, 2024 through April 30, 2027 and includes yearly increases in compensation, including base compensation; expansion of vision care benefits; childcare reimbursements; and support for international students. Labor Relations has posted a summary of the agreement. 

I extend my gratitude to the negotiating teams for their steadfast efforts to reach an agreement throughout a process that began in February and extended across 20 sessions. I also thank the UW team for their regular communications on progress and all – including faculty, staff, and leadership – who ensured continuity of our academic mission during the negotiations. 

The University approached this process grounded in our ongoing commitment to graduate students in their roles as students and as employees and committed to reaching a fair and sustainable contract. As I have previously conveyed, their contributions to our research and academic mission are deeply valued. With the ratification of the agreement, I am pleased that everyone can now return to focusing on this important work.  

Academic student employee contract negotiations and the UW’s position

This blog post was published April 11, 2024. Please see the Labor Relations website for details on bargaining sessions that have taken place since then and for other regular updates.

In February, academic student employees and the University of Washington entered into negotiations for their next collective bargaining agreement. I have tremendous respect for our graduate students and the bargaining process, and I have every confidence that through these conversations we will find the path that allows all of our students to pursue their education and degree attainment so they can engage in fulfilling careers, advance our knowledge, and have a positive impact on the world.

Because of the central role of graduate students in our mission, many members of our University are understandably invested in the negotiation process and its progress. Today, I am writing to provide an update and the framework for how the University is approaching these conversations.

The UW’s commitment to graduate students

At the core of its foundation, the University of Washington is committed to graduate students and their education. First and foremost, they are students earning graduate degrees to advance their careers, fields of studies and communities.

We also recognize graduate students’ valuable contributions as academic student employees to the research and academic mission and impact of our University. Salaried academic student employees (ASEs) hold part-time positions of no more than 20 hours per week in which they contribute to and gain experience in all aspects of our mission. In learning settings, academic student employees organize course material, assist with grading, mentor students, teach courses and lead study sessions. In research and discovery, they engage in textual and narrative analysis, conduct interviews and surveys, engage in field research, run experiments, analyze findings and communicate their results. In administrative units, they support activities such as outreach, advising and program planning.

In addition to being paid for their work and in recognition of their student status, most salaried academic student employees’ tuition is waived, meaning they pay no tuition. When wages, benefits and tuition waivers are considered, these part-time positions currently pay an average of approximately $70 an hour. There are also other benefits for academic student employees – some of which are available to all employees and others that are specific to ASEs – which are described in detail in the contract.

ASE positions are governed by a collective bargaining agreement, and the University is committed to negotiating this agreement in good faith. ASEs are represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 4121. You may read updates on the bargaining process, including the proposals from the union and those from the University that have been made during the eight bargaining sessions so far. As both sides agreed, all initial proposals were made by March 22.

Current proposal from UAW Local 4121

The UAW is currently proposing a 56% base salary increase beginning July 1, 2024. That raise would be followed by another 6% increase next year, and another 6% increase the following year.

The UAW has also proposed that the University waive student fees for all 50% or greater salaried ASEs and extend tuition waivers to graduate and undergraduate students in hourly ASE positions. Numerous other proposals include increases in health-care benefits, guaranteed year-long appointments for many ASE appointments, regardless of departmental research activities and coursework, and increased spending on programming. Those are detailed in the updates on the bargaining process mentioned above.

In total, the increases proposed by the UAW amount to $463,597,541 over the three years of the contract. This is in addition to the existing costs of pay, benefits and tuition waivers for the ASE population. For context, the University’s approximate budget for academic student employees—when factoring in wages, tuition and fee waivers, and health-care coverage—is $291 million per year.

The proposed increases by the union would result in an increase from the current minimum equivalent rate for salaried ASEs of $36 per hour to $57 per hour when considering compensation alone. When considering all of the union’s proposed increases, plus the current benefits and tuition waivers, ASEs will be paid an average of approximately $112 an hour.

The UW’s position

We recognize the impact of inflation on the cost of living in our region. It is clear that we must do more to compensate ASEs so that we continue to provide fair and appropriate compensation for these important part-time student employees. Reaching this shared goal will require us all to work together to balance the needs of all members of our University.

Why is this balance necessary? Because there are real constraints on the sources of funding – tuition, state funding, grants, etc. – for academic student employees. Grants have limits on what can be paid and are time limited; state funding varies by year; and tuition increases are capped by state law to maintain the affordability of a UW degree for students whose tuition isn’t waived.

While it may seem possible to consider the ASE contract in isolation, the comprehensiveness of our mission as a University requires a more holistic consideration of many factors including:

  • the availability of assistantships
  • the robustness of course offerings
  • access to faculty mentors
  • availability of support and services, both academic and non-academic

Together, these considerations determine access to education, success and time to degree for both graduate and undergraduate students, and the impact of our research, scholarship and creative activity.

By virtue of our contributions, we are all stewards of the mission of the University of Washington. We have a shared responsibility to be intentional about the impact of the decisions we make as the foundation of good faith in bargaining.

The way forward

As a faculty member, I have had the honor and privilege of working directly with ASEs in my teaching and research over the course of my career, and I have a deep appreciation for their important contributions to our academic mission. My own time as a teaching assistant and a research assistant provided my first window into what an academic career might entail. I am committed to reaching a fair and appropriate contract that enables graduate students to focus on their learning, teaching and research and to meet their financial needs. UW Labor Relations regularly shares updates on its website if you want to follow the negotiations.

Although I have confidence that we will ultimately reach an agreement that provides the best path forward, and we are working hard toward a positive outcome with a minimum of strife, past experience also shows us that we must unfortunately be prepared for strikes and other disruptions. So, we are actively engaged in those preparations.

I sincerely hope we can avoid that outcome, for the sake of all students and our shared enterprise of education, research, and service. We remain committed to reaching an agreement that meets the needs both of academic student employees and the University. 

Empowering students through teaching

One of the many things that drew me here was the University’s deep commitment to the concept of an R1 university, where excellence in scholarship and creative activity and in teaching are valued and integrated to strengthen both. Our vision is to create a challenging learning environment for our students that is informed by cutting-edge scholarship. Key to that vision is engaging our students as active participants in their own learning. 

In fact, this idea is clearly stated in the Regents’ policies that govern us, the first of which states: “. . . the University fosters an environment in which its students can develop mature and independent judgment and an appreciation of the range and diversity of human achievement. The University cultivates in its students both critical thinking and the effective articulation of that thinking.”  

Whether we are early in our careers or have years of experience, instructors of all roles, ranks and disciplines play a vital role in creating that environment in our classrooms, labs, studios, discussions and learning spaces – wherever and whenever we teach.   

I believe that we have all chosen to work here because we recognize the transformative power of this noble work. Teaching gives us the opportunity to pay it back – to acknowledge the instructors who taught, mentored, and inspired us. And, teaching gives us the opportunity to pay it forward, to spark in our students their own interests and passions for science, or literature, or social justice, and their intersections.  

Although the nature of my own contributions has evolved over time, a focus on the success of students has been a significant part of my work at every stage of my career as a scientist and a leader. Just as my research has developed over time, so has my teaching. Teaching is not a static endeavor, and we have much to learn from one another.  We have many ways to keep current on the scholarship of teaching and learning, such as discussions with colleagues and resources through Teaching@UW. 

Another excellent resource for instructors at all stages is the yearly UW Teaching & Learning Symposium that brings together faculty, staff educators, and graduate instructors from across the UW’s three campuses to share and explore teaching practices. With the theme “Empowering Students,” this year’s symposium is set for 1-2:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 16 in Kane Hall and streaming online. The keynote presenter will be Cate Denial, American history professor and director of the Bright Institute at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. A panel discussion about power dynamics in the classroom will follow with Professor Denial and UW educators Kevin Lin, assistant teaching professor of computer science; Maya Smith, associate dean in Arts & Sciences and associate professor of French; and Rachel Song, doctoral student in social psychology. Learn more and register to attend. 

The symposium also includes a showcase of teaching-related projects developed by your UW colleagues. Visit the showcase to see their wonderful work.  

Good teaching is a practice that we constantly develop, and I encourage all instructors to be intentional in advancing their pedagogy. Teaching offers another avenue for creativity and analysis that benefits from reviewing the literature, connecting with others to talk and learn about teaching, innovating in the classroom, assessing those new approaches, and refining our courses based on these new insights.

I have long believed that we are all elevated by working and learning together, and that through this strength, we – and our students – will make a transformational impact in the world. As we look to the future, we are deeply involved in conversations to define teaching excellence at the UW through a shared understanding of quality instruction and the supports that will sustain it. 

The Future of Teaching and Learning working group, composed of faculty and instructional staff from all three campuses, including representatives from the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning (FCTL), is developing the shared language based on feedback from over 600 UW instructors of all ranks. Later this spring, the group will send recommendations to FCTL on how to implement the shared language to improve the criteria, processes and support for instructional quality. 

This important work will help us establish a foundation on which to ensure inclusive and equitable learning environments that will empower all students. Look for future blog posts on this topic and how you can engage in this work. 

Task force appointed to address AI

Across the UW, faculty, staff and students are discovering and exploring the potential of artificial intelligence to improve lives around the world in nearly every field of study and area of research – computer science, health care, social sciences, humanities, law, public policy, and much more. AI is being leveraged countless ways, from diagnosing and delivering targeted treatment to cancer patients, to analyzing past weather patterns to predict future events.

AI also has the power to enhance the effectiveness of the University’s teaching and operations by personalizing and accelerating pathways to the institution’s goals.

Developing an institutional strategy for artificial intelligence is no longer a choice; it’s an imperative for the University. The UW has a responsibility to lead in the conversation around AI – not only in potential applications but in their ethical and equitable use. It is about catalyzing our mission to preserve, advance and disseminate knowledge and preparing students for a future where AI will be an integral part of their professional and personal lives.

Task Force on Artificial Intelligence

Provost Tricia Serio and President Ana Mari Cauce have appointed a Task Force on Artificial Intelligence to address these issues and to suggest a UW-wide AI strategy. Chaired by Andreas Bohman, vice president of UW-IT and the University’s chief information officer, and Anind Dey, dean of the Information School, the task force will initially divide its work into five areas:

  • Research and Knowledge Creation/Transfer
  • Student Services
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Infrastructure
  • Administration

Other task force members:

  • Magda Balazinska, professor, Bill & Melinda Gates chair and director of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering
  • Andrew Connolly, associate vice provost for data science and director of the UW eScience Institute
  • Yoshi Kohno, professor, Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering
  • François Baneyx, vice provost for innovation and director of CoMotion
  • Andy Harris, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, UW Tacoma
  • Eric Neil, chief information officer, UW Medicine
  • Anne-Marie Gloster, associate teaching professor, Department of Epidemiology, and member of Faculty Senate’s Council on Teaching and Learning
  • Rickey Hall, University Diversity Officer

Ex-officio members:

  • Mary Gresch, senior vice president for University Advancement
  • Randy Hodgins, vice president, Office of External Affairs

Working groups for each area will provide awareness of current efforts across the University, identify and prioritize areas of opportunity, and suggest policy for emerging issues. Additional members will be added to each working group in the coming weeks.

Working group chairs:

  • Research and Knowledge Creation/Transfer: Mari Ostendorf, vice provost for research, and Luke Zettlemoyer, professor, Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering
  • Student Services: Denzil Suite, vice president for Student Life, and Michaelann Jundt, senior associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs
  • Teaching and Learning: Pen Moon, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Bill Howe, associate professor, Information School
  • Infrastructure: Bin Guo, associate vice president for infrastructure and chief technology officer, and Xiaosong Li, associate vice provost for research cyberinfrastructure
  • Administration: Mindy Kornberg, vice president for Human Resources, and Erin Guthrie, assistant vice provost for university analytics and institutional research