As an RA/TA at the University of Florida, you are covered by the rights the graduate student union has negotiated with the university. As a note, these are rights related to your employment status with the university (as opposed to as a student).
A summary of rights is below, the official version of the full contract is here, and a searchable version of the contract pdf is here. In cases where the language is squishy in the contract, an attempt has been made to clarify how the policy will be applied to our group.
Leaves of Absence (with pay)
- If an injury/disability/illness prevents you from conducting your RA/TA duties you cannot be required to do them. But you should notify your supervisor immediately.
- If you have a family-related issue you cannot be required to perform your RA/TA while you tend to the family emergency
- family = parents, spouse/domestic partner, sibling,child, legal dependent or relative living with you
- issue = injury/illness/death
- If the university is closed for a holiday or emergency (e.g., hurricanes) you get the day off. That day off does not count against you and cannot be taken out of your personal leave time (see below).
- there are exceptions the first sentence, but are unlikely to apply to our group at this time.
- Conferences: You have the right to go to conferences/professional development events. The language here is squishy, but seems to indicate that supervisors should not use your TA/RA duties to prevent you from going unless it’s super-duper inconvenient.
- Application to our group (an example): if you are the Portal RA and you see a conference you want to attend in the reasonably distant future (say before Portal plane tickets are bought) occurs about the time you would be expected to go for a rodent census, then we will work together to either shift the timing of the census or find someone to substitute for you so you can go to the conference. If a couple of days before you are supposed to go down to Portal you find out about a workshop you want to attend that would prevent you from going to that census, we can discuss whether or not we can find a solution but if we can’t, I am allowed to say “I’m really sorry but because of your RA duties this isn’t going to work, let’s see if we can get you that training experience another way”.
- The contracts guarantees you 5 days per semester to take off without explanation (this is in addition to university holidays).
- Note: Given our lab philosophy that we are maximally productive and creative when we take time for self maintenance, you should not view 5 days/semester as a maximum limit. 5 days/semester is your right. Sometimes you may need more time and we understand that. If you are worried about balancing responsibilities with your need for extra time, you should feel free to talk with us about a) whether there is a concern (feeling guilty about taking time off and there actually being an issue are two separate things) and b) strategies for managing competing needs if there are legitimate concerns. Remember, if you need extra time due to something that falls under the Leave of Absence policy (above), those days do NOT count as personal days.
- You are entitled to 6 weeks of unpaid leave during any year if you have a new child (through either birth or adoption), to care for immediate family (defined above), or develop a serious health condition and cannot perform your duties.
- Translation: what this means is that you can walk away for up to 6 weeks and the university is required to give you the same (or similar) position when you return but you will not be paid during this time.
- In practice: please, please, please talk to us (Ethan and Morgan). We have a history of working with students/postdocs who have had babies, serious family issues, or developed debilitating diseases during their time with us. Each situation and each mentee’s constraints/needs differ. Let us help you strategize what the best path forward is for you.
- While on unpaid leave you will retain your health insurance and (maybe) your tuition waiver. It is unclear when the tuition waiver won’t be maintained.
- Important: the University policy only applies AFTER your first semester on a RA/TA. If you need unpaid leave during your 1st semester on a RA/TA the university is not constrained by the contract.
- In practice: Please talk to Ethan/Morgan if you feel like you need an extended absence from the program during your 1st semester.
- You cannot be forced to work more hours than your position requires. This number depends on your FTE (full-time equivalent) appointment.
- Most RAs in our group are 0.5 FTE (or half-time). Your specifically required RA duties can’t comprise more than 20 hours/week.
- How this applies to our lab: The intersection of the RA duties with a student’s dissertation/educational plan is where things get muddied, lines get blurred, and where abuses can and do occur. For example, if a student is doing a dissertation chapter that is also a project required for a grant on which they are an RA, and a supervisor pushes a student to work more, is the supervisor requiring the student to put in more hours on the RA or pushing the student to make progress on the dissertation? It is sadly common that supervisors to say it is “for the dissertation” when in reality the motivation is actually related to the work required for the grant (or the supervisor’s own professional needs). This is part of the reason we do annual self-evaluations and have you set your own goals, so it is clearer when feedback is based on your progress on your educational plan vs when what we are asking for is unrelated to that and RA related. Ethan and Morgan know the current system in the lab is imperfect and we are slowly trying to make this aspect clearer and more transparent. For now, if you feel that aspects of what you are doing are not related to your educational plan (defined as dissertation plus professional development) and are taking up more than 20 hours per week then please talk to us, or have someone else in the lab convey that there is concern about this (potentially anonymously) if you are uncomfortable communicating this to us directly so we can sit down and talk through the RA responsibilities, how to decrease the hours associated with them, and make sure you have the time to put towards your own educational goals.
- RA/TAs are required to be paid at least $21,333.33 for a 0.5 FTE 12-month appointment
- Fees for graduate students are not due until Fall: Nov. 15, Spring: Mar 15, Summer A,B,C: Jul 21st
- The university provides health insurance to all RA/TAs with an FTE >= 0.25 and should be charged only a $10/month. Dependents/Spouses can be added at additional costs.
- All personnel decisions related to RA/TAs should be based on job performance and job-related criteria and not based on “race, color, sex, religious creed, national origin, age, veteran status, disability, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity, or any other category protected by federal or state law”.
- The contract makes no mention of what your rights are if this has happened. Sigh. We will develop a page of resources/protocols that are available to you to pursue action.
- If you are required to work on-campus, the university must give you a place to work
- If you feel that your working environment is unsafe (in the health and hazard sense) you should report this to an administrator who is required to conduct an investigation. You will be provided the outcome of the investigation and any actions the university needs to take to remedy the situation.
- The university should give you a 1 month notice if they are going to move your work space
What is the process if your supervisor submits a formal complaint about you?
The contract outlines the process and rights of the RA/TA if their supervisor starts formal disciplinary proceedings against them. This process ONLY applies to work-related issues related to the RA/TA. It does not cover other aspects of the graduate student/mentor relationship (e.g., requesting a new PhD mentor or a mentor requesting a student be reassigned to another mentor). This process involves the supervisor submitting a complaint to the university, the university investigating this complaint and deciding on appropriate action and you having a chance to appeal the decision. This situation rarely happens but since it is really important to know your rights if it does, things are broken out and defined below.
Step 1: Request for Disciplinary Action
- What is a Disciplinary Action? It is a formal accusation of misconduct/incompetency submitted to the University. It is not an oral reprimand, letters of counseling, or other criticism. A formal Disciplinary Action will be handled through the university and involves due process.
- RA/TAs can only be disciplined for misconduct or incompetency. Actions outside the scope of employment cannot be used against you unless they “adversely affect the legitimate and compelling interests of the University” (which are undefined)
- Accusations of misconduct or incompetency will be investigated by the university and conducted as confidentially as possible. The RA/TA will be notified in writing about the result of the investigation.
- Disciplinary actions can result in termination of the RA/TA or suspension w/ or w/o pay, depending on the degree of misconduct, or a written formal reprimand.
- If terminated, the student will have to pay pro-rated tuition starting at the date of termination.
Step 2: Grievance
If you have concerns about how the university decision was made (for whatever reason) you have the right to request a Grievance Procedure. This is when the union gets involved.
- What is a Grievance?: a formal complaint by an employee towards their employer that the employee has been treated unfairly in some way.
- The Grievance Procedure Grievance is a formal process and will involve the union in some capacity.
- Representation: during this process you have a right to be represented by a union official, by legal counsel, or to represent yourself.
- Your supervisor cannot punish you for the time required to participate in grievance meetings (i.e. they cannot withhold pay or deny you time off to attend the meeting.
- There is a detailed process in the contract for how to proceed with a Grievance. Long story short, contact the UFF-GAU (graduate student union) and let them help you through this process.
When can a RA/TA be terminated?
- Continued failure to perform duties specified in the letter of appointment
- Failure to make appropriate progress towards degree
- Documented misconduct/incompetence (must be on record with the department)
- Lack of funds as a result of adverse financial conditions (Unclear if this means at the university level or if the grant suddenly turns out to lack money)