Equalization of GRA and TA university minimum rates

See below a note from the graduate school sent to DGSs by email.  This doesn’t apply to you in an immediate sense because the rate we paid was already above this.  However, I think this is worth being aware of the dynamics of how grad stipends are set at cornell.  GRA and TAs were historically paid the same minimum rate.  Recently (I think last year), the grad school separated the minimum rates and allowed the two rates to become different.  The argument (at the time) was that fields that paid primarily TAs were competing in an employment market different from those that paid primarily GRAs.  Anyway, from below it is clear that grad students opposed the separation of these two pay rates, and the new president/provost have acted to bring them together again.

Again, we pay students in our field more than this anyway, so it doesn’t directly affect you, but good to know what is going on at the university.


Jason Kahabka
Aug 28 (2 days ago)
Dear DGSs and GFAs,

As you may know, the minimum stipend rate for Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) and Research Assistants (RAs) has been slightly lower than the minimum rate for Teaching Assistants (TAs) for the past year. For 2015-16, the published differential was $324/semester. This disparity has raised strong objections from students and their elected representatives on the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. In response to these concerns, President Garrett, Provost Kotlikoff and Dean Knuth have approved equalizing the RA and GRA rates with the current TA rate of $24,658/year, effective this fall. We expect that President Garrett will publically announce this news next Monday but I am writing now to alert you of this impending change. (Please don’t share this message until Tuesday, 9/1)

In a survey conducted last spring many fields reported that they had already planned to pay RAs and GRAs at or above the minimum TA rate. An evaluation of current appointment records indicates that approximately 130 doctoral students will be impacted and will receive a higher stipend. We are working directly with those fields and faculty PIs to adjust their stipends and reissue appointment letters.

If you have any RA or GRA appointments in your field that are currently below $24,658/year ($12,329/semester) please contact me immediately for information on how to make the necessary changes. The new rates have been posted online. Thank you for your understanding as we work through this adjustment.

From all of my colleagues at the Graduate School, we hope you and your students have a great semester.



Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration
Cornell University
The Graduate School

Results of TA hours surveys


I list here a simplified and stylized description of the results of the TA effort survey. I am happy to discuss details with anyone who is interested.

General conclusions: full time TAs report mean workload at 14.5 hrs and max workload at 22 hours. These self-reported hours are not crazily out of line with grad school specs (15 hrs/20 hrs), but a fraction of TAs certainly quote self-reported workload above grad school specs. More report max hours above 20-25 hrs than report mean hrs above 15-20 hrs; however, I learned from interpretive questions (survey items asking students to interpret whether they find the TA policies in the grad fields to be in compliance with guidelines) that student perceptions of compliance are more closely tied to mean hours than max hours. I interpret this to mean that students are not really concerned if a single week has a heavy workload; rather, students are more concerned if mean workload is high. so I am focused on managing the mean.

data on half time TAs is interesting but difficult to comment on as the sample size is very small, so I have taken note of those results but am not reporting them in detail right now.

I was surprised to note the wide variety of tasks that students were asked to perform. almost all of the 7 tasks I listed were of equal importance when averaged over the population. I was concerned that everyone would report that they were grading papers all the time.

Action items: the data is a bit preliminary to take much action, and it was never expected that one survey would lead to an unambiguous call to action. I am using a weak (two-sample) Bayesian prior that mean and max TA hours are right at the edge of compliance; one survey isn’t enough to make me take detailed action but two or three would be. I will survey students at end of this term and again next term. This data will be reported to the faculty and I will make preliminary recommendations. I will also be seeing if there are trends related to specific classes or faculty.

TAs should record their hours in anticipation of surveys

a note to those serving as TAs this term (others can ignore) –

the director (Campbell), assoc director for UG affairs (sachse) and assoc director for grad affairs (kirby) would like to gather some data on how much students are spending as part of their TA commitments. to this end, I plan to survey TAs at mid-term and end of term. in anticipation of this, I’d like TAs to please keep approximate track of the hours you are spending. you will hear from me again at mid term with a survey request.