Local Endorses Living Wage for Graduate Assistants

A News Release

The union for employees of the University of Arkansas has endorsed the graduate-assistant fight for a living wage of $20,000 per year.

“Our graduate students simply cannot afford to work for the wages the university is paying,” said Local 965 President Bret Schulte. “Many were working second jobs and relying on food pantries before the pandemic hit. Now, their second jobs are gone. The situation is desperate. Our grad students teach thousands of students each semester; they should be paid what they are worth to the university.

“The grad assistant current minimum wage at the Fayetteville campus is $12,500 per nine-month contract and $15,000 per 12-month contract.” Schulte is an associate professor of journalism.

Meeting online Jan. 21, the UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 unanimously approved the resolution, to be presented to the UA Faculty Senate for its consideration.

The document was drafted by 965 Vice President Mike Pierce, an associate professor of history.

Pierce’s resolution notes that the UA’s own graduate school estimates the cost of living in Fayetteville as far above the stipend level. According to the UA, the typical graduate student has monthly expenses of $1,895. The current monthly minimum pay calculates out to $1,250 for a 12-month contract and $1,389 for a nine-month contract.

“Even by the university’s own standards, our graduate students are not making enough money to live in Fayetteville,” Pierce said. 

According to research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, meanwhile, a single person working in Washington County needs $22,339.20 a year to live independently, that is without food assistance or other government programs. 

Pierce noted that a higher minimum wage also will attract higher quality graduate students, who in turn teach a number of undergraduate classes or assist in vital research.

Grad assistantships are defined as a half-time job of about 20 hours a week, of teaching or research, while the students are completing their degrees.

English TAs Feel Pandemic Pressure

An online petition drive was begun Tuesday, Dec. 15, to challenge the monetary incentivizing of graduate teaching assistants to conduct in-person classes in English composition this spring semester. The message notes the vulnerability of the part-time instructors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

[Update: The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 17 gives further details in “UA’s Pandemic Teaching Incentive Criticized” (possible paywall on link)]

The UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 supports graduate students being treated fairly and respectfully. It wrote the university’s CEO on their behalf:

A letter to University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph E. Steinmetz from the campus labor union

Dec. 16, 2020

Dear Chancellor Steinmetz,

The UA-Fayetteville Education Association stands with the many graduate students in opposing the recent attempt to increase face-to-face instruction on campus as the COVID pandemic rages at a quickening pace, killing more than 3,000 Arkansans and more than 300,000 Americans to date.

In spite of the university’s recent efforts, our graduate students are tragically underpaid. Many take on second jobs to make ends meet, only to have lost them to the pandemic. Many are now at risk of becoming homeless; they increasingly rely on food pantries.

Logo for the Department of English, Fulbright College

On Tuesday, however, it appeared the university is attempting to take advantage of this desperation as part of a broader effort to appease those who want the university to ignore or minimize the pandemic. Grad students in the English department were offered an additional $4000 per class to teach face to face in the Spring semester.

The University has made it clear that it feels pressure from forces in Little Rock to teach half of its classes face to face next semester. However, students are not demanding it. In fact, faculty have seen students drift away from face-to-face instruction since campus re-opened in August. Furthermore, the Associated Student Government passed a resolution in November asking administrators to stop a policy that would allow faculty to force attendance in face-to-face classes.

We know the university wants to do right by its employees — as proven by the Chancellor’s recent commitment to a Living Wage — but it must stand firm to prioritize safety. Rather, this incentive for face-to-face teaching offers a Faustian bargain to our most economically vulnerable employees — asking them to risk their health to pay the bills.

The offer to English graduate students said this bonus would come from federal dollars. That means federal dollars are being used to fulfill a political rather than educational goal of the university.

We respectfully ask the university to change its goals: Use the money to help graduate students, period. They shouldn’t have to risk their lives for it. Let us be mindful of the lessons we are teaching.


Local 965

Bret Schulte, President
Michael Pierce, Vice President
Hershel Hartford, Treasurer
Ben Pollock, Secretary
Ted Swedenburg, officer at-large
Mohja Kahf, member
Geffrey Davis, member
Geoff Brock, member
Padma Viswanathan, member
Mohja Kahf, member
Lissette Lopez Szwydky-Davis, member
Cynthia Nance, member
Joshua Smith, member

Graduate Students

Ali Hintz, 965 member
Josh Luckenbach, 965 member
Emily Aguayo
Gracie Bain
Melody Berry
Samm Binns
Dana Blair
Chris Borntrager
Sarah Browning
David Brunson
Lily C. Buday
Olivia Cash 
Gabrielle Causey
Ryan Chamberlain
Jackie Chicalese
Bethany Cole
Erin Daugherty
Katherine Davis
Alysandra Dutton
Tiffany Elder
Kristin Entler
CD Eskilson
Kristen Figgins
Conor Flannery
Ali Geren
Jesse Greenhill
Rome Hernández Morgan
Dylan Hopper
Tyler Houston
Victoria Hudson
Sarah Hurst 
Emma Jones
Olivia Jorgensen

Scot Langland
Peter Mason
Miranda McClung
Landon McGee
Mackenzie McGee
Elizabeth Muscari
Jami Padgett
Martha Pearce
Angelena Pierce
Remy Pincumbe
Caitlin Plante
John Plavcan
Katherine Powell
Shalini Rana
Bailey Rhodes
Nicole Rikard
Ann Riley-Adams
Andrea L. Rogers
Sharla Rosenbaum
Vasantha Sambamurti 
Cade Scott
Audrey Scrafford 
Lucy Shapiro
Devin Shepherd
Lauren Shively
Eden Shulman
Mitchell Simpson
Mar Stratford
Tessa Swehla
Hiba Tahir
Sidney Thomas
Emma Van Dyke
Emma Williams
Kait Yates

Later on Dec. 16


Thanks for the note. I have copied [Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs] Charles Robinson for his response. I was not aware that this kind of incentive was being offered until I saw it earlier today. Also, I am not sure what federal funds are being referenced for use. I believe Charles can clarify.


Joseph E. Steinmetz
University of Arkansas

Union Thanks UA Chancellor for Initiating Living Wage for Campus Employees

News Statement
For immediate release — For more information
Local President Bret Schulte

Sundial southwest of Old Main.
Sundial southwest of Old Main
Credit University of Arkansas

Chancellor Joe Steinmetz of the University of Arkansas today, July 13, announced the phasing in of a Living Wage for U of A employees, sought for over two years by the union representing its faculty and staff.  

In 2018, the Local 965 launched its Living Wage campaign, gathering more than 700 signatures in support of higher wages while supporting the campus food pantry that served food-insecure employees and students.

“This is a long overdue and desperately needed raise for many UA employees,” said Bret Schulte, president of UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965. “We believe this decision shows the power of coming together and magnifying our voices until we are heard.”

Unfortunately, the chancellor’s plan does nothing for the many graduate students on 9-month appointments who are working for poverty level wages.

“The plan only offers a hope of a raise for those few graduate students who are on 12-month appointments and leaves the bulk of our TAs out in the cold at a time when the economy is cratering and teaching opportunities are uncertain,” Schulte said. “We will continue to fight on behalf of our graduate students and for stronger, more equitable and more competitive University of Arkansas.”

The national pay campaign is based on the Living Wage calculation, the least income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs, higher than a subsistence wage rate and the federal and state minimum wage laws. 

The Fayetteville campus would eventually see a minimum salary of $30,000 a year for full-time employees and $15,000 for TAs, who work half time, generally teaching undergraduates, according to a June 10 announcement from Steinmetz.   

In June, the local helped graduate students write and launch a petition for higher stipends that garnered hundreds of signatures and media coverage, Schulte said.

“The university told employees for decades that it had no control over wages for classified staff, abdicating responsibility for poverty-level wages,” Schulte said. “Classified employees generally earn hourly wages and work as non-teaching staff. Rather than paying employees a fair wage, the university opened a food pantry on campus. For the last two years, we have argued that UA employees deserve better. Those voices have been heard, and answered.”

“Today’s announcement shows what is possible when we have a union. The Local 965 thanks everyone who signed its petitions and thanks Chancellor Joe Steinmetz for his commitment to investing in the people that make the University of Arkansas work. He has done what past chancellors dismissed as impossible. We are proud of our university, proud of our community. We will continue to work to build a prosperous, uncompromising and exceptional University of Arkansas.”

Schulte is an associate professor of journalism. Local 965 is an affiliate of the Arkansas Education Association/National Education Association.

News Coverage

Enough of Brough, Rename Dining Hall to Branton

University of Arkansas Union Calls for Renaming of Brough Commons

Arkansas Gov. Charles Hillman Brough addresses a crowd after the Elaine Massacre, October 1919.
Arkansas Gov. Charles H. Brough addresses a crowd after the Elaine Massacre, October 1919.
Credit Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Arkansas State Archives

At its June membership meeting, the University of Arkansas Education Association/Local 965 passed a resolution calling for the university to change the name of the Charles Hillman Brough Commons on the Fayetteville campus to the Wiley A. Branton Sr. Commons.

The local declared that Brough’s role in the Elaine Massacre of 1919, in which an estimated 150 to 400 African Americans were killed by white mobs in Phillips County, “renders him unworthy to be celebrated on a campus that prides itself on being welcoming to students, staff, and faculty of all races.”

Instead, Local 965 calls for the commons to be renamed to honor Branton, the prominent civil rights attorney and 1953 graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Law who earlier helped Silas Hunt integrate the university.

The call to rename the commons, said local Vice President Michael Pierce, an associate professor of history, is “just one part of the larger effort to address the systemic racism that has persisted on campus far too long.”

Inflammatory headline sequence of story in the Oct. 3, 1919, issue of the Arkansas Gazette, as follows: "Negroes Plan to Kill All Whites; Slaughter Was to Begin with 21 Prominent Men as the First Victims; 'We Just Begun' Password"
Inflammatory headline sequence of story in the Oct. 3, 1919, issue of the Arkansas Gazette
Credit Wikimedia Commons

The Elaine Massacre was the response of local whites to Black sharecroppers and tenant farmers organizing a union to prevent planters and landlords from cheating them out of the profits from crops they produced. For four days (Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 1919), white mobs roamed southern Phillips County, along the Mississippi River on the eastern edge of the state, killing or arresting those whom they suspected of participating in the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America. Five white men also were killed, most of them from friendly fire.

The best primary source is Ida Wells-Barnett’s The Arkansas Race Riot [1920]. The best scholarly book is Grif Stockley’s Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919 [2003]. Stockley also penned the Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry “Elaine Massacre of 1919.”

Gov. Charles H. Brough in 1916
Gov. Charles H. Brough in 1916
Credit Wikimedia Commons, Library of Congress

In the aftermath of the Elaine Massacre, Brough, the 1917-21 governor, failed to secure justice to the victims by attempting to cover up the murders of African Americans and blaming union members and their allies for the deaths of the five white men, and refusing to commute the sentences of the African Americans who were unjustly convicted of killing the five white men.

  • Brough endorsed the findings of a local committee that blamed the massacre victims for the five white deaths: “The present trouble … is a deliberately planned insurrection of the Negroes against the whites directed by an organization known as the ‘Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America,’ established for the purpose of banding Negroes together for the killing of white people” (cited in Moore v. Dempsey 261 U.S. 86 [1923]).
  • Brough praised the white residents of Phillips County for their actions during the four days of violence: “The situation at Elaine has been well handled. … The white citizens of the county deserve unstinting praise for their actions in preventing mob violence” (Arkansas Gazette, Oct. 4, 1919).
  • Brough launched a cover-up campaign that denied the deaths of the African Americans. According to Stockley, the foremost historian of the Elaine Massacre, “Brough had obviously committed himself to a position of totally denying that Blacks had been massacred. … The governor mentioned none of the names of the Blacks who had been killed. They were the enemy” (Blood in Their Eyes, p. 86).
  • Brough did nothing when Phillips County prosecutors sent 75 union members and allies to the penitentiary for their roles in the so-called “insurrection.”
  • Brough stood by while Phillips County authorities conducted sham trials and sentenced 12 union members and allies to death for their roles in the so-called “insurrection.” 
  • Brough refused to pardon or commute the sentences of the 12 men sentenced to die, even in the face of a national campaign highlighting the gross injustices of the judicial proceedings. After Brough left office, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the proceedings against the 12 men were so unfair that new trials were required (Stockley, Blood in Their Eyes, p. xxix; Moore v. Dempsey). 

During his tenure as governor Charles Brough (1875-1935) failed to protect the Black population of Phillips County and see to it that the rule of law prevailed in the state. He showed callous disregard for Black lives, and that is why there was never any attempt by state officials to count the number of African Americans killed. Having a building at the center of campus honoring Brough is an affront to everyone in the campus community working to promote racial equality and diversity.

Wiley Branton
Wiley A. Branton Sr.
Credit Howard University School of Law

Branton, a native of Pine Bluff and World War II veteran, played a critical role in the integration of the University of Arkansas. He travelled to Fayetteville in 1948 to help his friend Silas Hunt enroll at the U of A Law School then a few years later matriculated himself. Following his graduation in 1953, Branton (1923-1988) emerged as one of the nation’s foremost civil rights attorneys.

On Branton, see Judith Kilpatrick, There When We Needed Him: Wiley Austin Branton, Civil Rights Warrior [2007]. Kilpatrick also wrote the Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry “Wiley Austin Branton Sr.

  • Branton served as the state NAACP’s lead attorney in the litigation concerning the integration of Little Rock schools in the late 1950s.
  • Branton, alongside co-counsel Thurgood Marshall, successfully argued Cooper v. Aaron (1958) before the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision was a blow to the nation’s segregationists, undercutting the strategy of “massive resistance.”
  • Branton was the first director of the Voter Education Project, a program that helped over 600,000 African Americans across the South become eligible to vote in the years before the Voting Rights Act (1965).
  • Branton served as 1978-83 dean of the Howard University School of Law.

As part of the university’s efforts to address the persistent racism found on the Fayetteville campus, Local 965 calls on Chancellor Joe Steinmetz and the U of A System Board of Trustees to make sure that buildings are named for people who are truly deserving of the respect of all students, staff, and faculty. To this end, the university needs to change the name of Brough Commons to Branton Commons as part of a broader effort to come to terms with the inequities and racism that continue to plague the campus community.

Union Faults Virus Plans for Students, Faculty, Staff

Local 965 Responds to UA ‘Returning to Campus’ Strategy

News Release, June 2, 2020 

Chancellor Joe Steinmetz deserves praise for his leadership during the pandemic by swiftly closing campus, avoiding furloughs and lay-offs, and preserving the University of Arkansas’s high standards for education and research. However, the UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 finds the plan released today, “Returning to Campus,” does little to clarify a confusing and potentially dangerous situation for the Fall 2020 semester.


“Returning to Campus” does not go far enough to protect the health of students. We hope to see the administration address the following:

  • Student housing density. Neither the populations of dormitories nor the Greek houses will be reduced to allow more single-occupant living. 
  • Freshmen are still required to live on campus. 
  • Dining halls are scheduled to operate normally and at full capacity. 
  • No proposals to decrease risk on university buses. 

The plan issued by the University of Arkansas does not employ guidelines proposed by the American College Health Association for re-opening campuses. ACHA recommends all students be tested on arrival and that a sample population be tested at regular intervals to gauge the presence of the coronavirus on campus throughout the semester. The guidelines also recommend identifying quarantine space, preferably off campus, for infected students. 


U of A staff, which include the lowest-paid employees on campus, are left vulnerable under this plan.

Staff deemed essential will be required to report. Other staff “who are unable to be fully productive remotely” will also be required to work on campus. The plan, though, does not state how such a standard will be assessed nor by whom.

And while it seems clear that U of A employees infected with COVID-19 would be able to use sick leave while in quarantine, it is not clear that they could access benefits and continue to be paid if they are quarantined because of contact with an infected person. Not compensating such employees may encourage them to conceal contact with infected persons, to the detriment of the community.


The plan’s guidelines for faculty, meanwhile, are conflicting. In Section 3, the document states that employees who self-identify as being at enhanced risk of COVID-19 must report to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance for potential (italics added) accommodations. But in Section 4, the plan states “colleges and departments are urged to continue online or remote delivery whenever that is feasible and effective.” The University faculty has proven it can teach effectively online. Does this mean that every faculty member should continue to teach online? Or must he/she have a pre-existing condition that requires an accommodation from the OEOC?

The plan signals to students that the University of Arkansas is returning to business (as mostly) normal, while simultaneously seeming to urge faculty to continue online and remote delivery of education whenever possible. 

Getting the re-opening of the University of Arkansas right is critical to its future. We urge the administration to be more specific in its proposals to safeguard the U of A community. Until then, UA faculty and staff have proven they can deliver a high-quality remote education, just as it has since campus closed in March. 

# # #

Update — Sunday, June 7, 2020 — University of Arkansas officials on Thursday, June 4, relaxed the longstanding requirement that first-year undergraduates must live on campus unless they present a doctor’s statement indicating an existing medical condition, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. “Covid-19 Allowed as Housing Claim” quotes campus spokesman John Thomas as saying, “If a new freshman is more comfortable living off campus due to Covid-19 concerns, we wanted to give them that option.”

While the article cites one parent’s request back in April, concern about the freshmen dorm mandate was a top criticism in Local 965 response, above, to the “Returning to Campus” document issued earlier that day, June 2. The Local’s analysis was reported in two area media outlets. The official document at this date still does not mention the broadening of the new freshmen exemption.