The Sit-In Worked! UH President Commits $1 Million to Helping English Teaching Fellows Out of Poverty

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After nearly a week of early mornings, late nights, and a few choice Facebook posts, it seems the University of Houston's English Teaching Fellows' sit-in has finally ended. A meeting with President Renu Khator, and a subsequent statement from her office, detailed the measures the university is willing to take to rectify the facts that the TFs have not received a single pay raise in two decades -- and their current stipends place them below the poverty line.

"We're feeling great," Austin Tremblay, an English TF, told Hair Balls. "We're really deeply appreciative of the offer that President Khator made, especially considering her offer was intended to help with our 20-year struggle."

It seems Khator, who was away last week for the birth of her granddaughter, wanted to waste no time in alleviating the sit-in, which had recruited both students and faculty alike. The most important commitment Khator made on Monday was to allocate "$1 million to address the issue of teaching assistants teaching the UH Core Curriculum. ... This pool of money will provide assistance to TFs and TAs, whose salaries are most compressed and who teach undergraduate CORE classes."

As it is, the specific allocation of that $1 million isn't yet finalized, and will only come after consultation with Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Dean John Roberts and Provost Paula Short. Still, according to Tremblay, the fact that the president was willing to devote such a hefty sum is a distinct move in the right direction.

"We've suspended the sit-in, and we're very happy with how quickly President Khator responded, and especially how quickly she made the offer," Tremblay said. "Because of her hasty action, which was quite impressive, we're comfortable ending the sit-in right now."

According to UH TF Beth Lyons, one of the largest boons to the sit-in came from the presence of the faculty that had been privy to the situation for two decades.

"What we've always said is that we love our program, and we would like our administration to love us as much," Lyons told Hair Balls. "To have our faculty there supporting us really shows that they do support us -- they have fought alongside us, asking for change for years."

The president pledged a pair of additional points to help soothe the situation. Provost Short will appoint "a university-wide task force on Graduate Assistant Success," examining how to better alleviate the issues besetting the TFs and TAs. She will also enlist the aid of an external reviewer, which will "help the dean and provost evaluate competitive information, learn best practices, get advice from aspirational peers, show accountability to the public, and help rectify not just the wage issue, but all issues related to the learning and working environment of the teaching fellows and teaching assistants." The last external review came in 2004, when the stipends were still somewhere near the poverty line.

Despite the sit-in's suspension, Tremblay said he and his colleagues would monitor the continuing decisions of Dean Roberts and Provost Short. Until the teaching fellows are making a manageable stipend -- perhaps not on par with peer institutions, but something at least something approaching a living wage -- their demands will continue.

"It's a step in the right direction, and certainly a big one, and one that we're quite thankful for, but our original position that we have been waiting on -- a wage adjustment -- we're still waiting on that," Tremblay noted. "He's committed to giving that to us, but we're still waiting on that. That's the ultimate goal."

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