On June 20th 2011, President Hongyu Zhang, Secretary Zach Watne, and Chief of Staff Aaron Brantly met with the University of Georgia's Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Tim Burgess.
First we would like to thank VP Burgess for taking the time to hear the concerns of the graduate community at UGA and for taking the time to explain and answer our many questions.
The primary purpose of the meeting was to understand the instution fee which has been more than doubled from $200/ Semester in 2010 to $450/Semester in 2011.
VP Burgess explained that the institutional fee is set by the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents as a means of making up for cuts to the overall unversity system. When asked if the fee was the equivalent of tution the response was no. When asked where the fee was allocated it was explained that it goes towards the University's general fund in the same fashion as tution. Burgess aserts this is the first time since the 1980s that there has been such a fee and it is in response to significant budget shortfalls.
The fee has no definite time period and there is no established mechnism for expiration should the economic situation across the state improve. The fee is not set in stone and is at the discretion of the Board of Regents to assign.
VP Burgess noted an approximately 9% budget cut for the upcoming fiscal year which begins today July 1.
We have inquired with VP Burgess about statistics on in state and out of state residents at the university as well as the number of those individuals who stay in state upon graduation. We were referred to the career center.
Historically tuition made up approximately 22% of the university operating budget. This has gone up to approximately 30% according to the VP. This dramatic increase in the necessity for tuition has percipitated the fee.
The VP was asked about current hiring on campus. When asked if there is a campus hiring freeze he responded that it was a hiring chill. He indicated there are approximately 500 vacant positions on campus, which will not be filled until the budget situation improves.
He asked us to be considerate of the fact that all UGA employees are also exeriencing the budget problems including himself. He indicated that there has been a freeze on wages for 3 years despite increases in costs associated with health care and other employee benefits.
He indicated that the plight of the graudate community is not going unnoticed. He referenced President Adam's State of the University address in which graduate education was make a top priority.
He listened to our comments about lack of competitive compensation for graduate assistants and indicated that it would be a topic beneficial to lobby for at higher levels including the Board of Regents.
He noted that despite the budget problems the administration has renegotiated the mandatory health care plan and settled on GM South West. The offerring is of a higher quality for almost an identical price point.
He indicated that much of the graduate education program is subsidized through the tuition payments made by undergraduate students.
We expressed concern at the recent raise received by University President Michael Adams and indicated that this was not consistent with a positive working environment in which all employees of the university have had their salaries frozen while one of the highest earners will be earning more. He indicated he had heard a number of complaints from various groups on campus regarding this decision. He indicated that this decision was made outside the university at the Board of Regents Chancelor's level. The increased payment of $50,000 is not to come from direct university funds but rather is an increased rent associated with the UGA athletic association.
When told that the GSA planned to lobby both the Board of Regents as well as the state legislature and Governor's office about the fees and funding of the University System he indicated that we should not make the arguement for the reclassification of the Special Fee as a part of tuition and instead should seek to have graduate student stipends increased in comparison to UGA peer and aspirant universities.
The meeting lasted approximately 1 hour. VP Burgess was invited to visit the UGAGSA.com website. He was also invited to come to the August 10th Graduate welcome lunch reception in MLC to meet the incoming cohort.
After the meeting President Zhang, Watne, and Brantly met, reviewed the information discussed and have begun working on a plan to create a council of councils among all the GSA and SGA Graduate administrations state-wide to lobby on behalf of the graduate students within the State of Georgia. We will continue to keep the community informed about our progress with regards to Fees and other university financial issues affecting the graduate community.
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