Faculty Senate addresses COVID-19 measures for spring, graduate assistants’ income increase

Faculty Senate meets to discuss various topics Feb. 26, 2020, in the University Center. 

The Faculty Senate held its last meeting of the semester virtually Wednesday to discuss spring COVID-19 protocols and the petition to increase graduate teaching assistants’ funding. 

Faculty repeated the need to increase graduate teaching assistants’ funding as doctoral admissions come up in the spring.

In early November, two faculty members started a petition, which has garnered over 300 signatures from professors in various departments. The petition calls for UTA to use the funding it receives annually for reaching Texas Tier One status to better accommodate graduate teaching assistants with tuition, stipend and health insurance, according to previous Shorthorn reporting.

“This is an urgent problem, and it’s not something that we can waste another two or three years on,” said Ramez Elmasri, computer science and engineering professor.

Elmasri said the computer science program used to get over 200 graduate applicants, but it has dwindled to about 50.

Interim President Teik Lim said this issue needs a comprehensive plan, and the Office of the Provost and the office of research are working with colleges’ deans to devise a strategy soon. 

“If we simply just increase the salary from this number to that number, we will come back to the same problem again in a couple years,” Lim said, referring to a few years ago when the university took actions on the same issue.

Pranesh Aswath, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said he thinks the university should create a committee with college representatives to address the issue, as it has done so in the past.

The Senate also addressed UTA’s announcement that all students and employees coming to campus for the spring semester must provide proof of a COVID-19 test by Feb. 4, according to previous Shorthorn reporting.

The campus will reopen Jan. 3, and faculty are advised to maximize remote work for the first week and resume normal operation Jan. 10, with spring classes beginning Jan. 18.

UTA requires its community to submit COVID-19 test results due to new variants of the coronavirus and holiday gatherings, according to previous Shorthorn reporting.

“As we are all aware, the Omicron variant is another wrinkle that has come our way,” Aswath said. “It looks like we keep getting curveballs in this virus, when we feel like things are settling down, something else pops up.”

Testing data is important for the university to observe cases on campus and compare it to the surrounding community, said Kaushik De, physics professor and chairperson of the Faculty Senate COVID-19 Advisory Task Force.

“That’s why we would like the university to continue testing on a regular and steady basis,” De said.



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