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Jacobs School Grad Students, Administrators Differ on Pay

When Indiana University’s Graduate and Professional Student Organization published a report late last year on salaries of graduate student instructors at Big Ten Universities, it touched off a debate within IU’s Jacobs School of Music.  Graduate assistants say the report accurately shows their pay is low compared to their peers in other departments, but Jacobs School officials say the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Even if his wife had not been pursuing an advanced degree at IU, Alan Dunbar said he would have applied to the Jacobs School of Music’s doctoral voice program because of its reputation.  Dunbar is scheduled to receive his doctorate next month and he’s subsidized his classwork by teaching classes.

For that teaching, Dunbar and about 250 other grad students receive tuition waivers which cover the cost of their classes.  The GPSO study appears to show most music grad student instructors make between nine and ten thousand dollars a year — the lowest of any academic unit on campus.  Jacobs School dean Gwyn Richards counters by pointing to the study’s introduction, which says data in the study comes from many sources, some of them unreliable and some using different metrics for measuring salaries.  Richards also said the breakdown of disciplines listed in the report includes some degree programs the Jacobs school does not offer on the graduate level, making the numbers hard to decipher.  But Alan Dunbar sides with the report’s authors, saying their conclusions broadly match his experience and anecdotes he hears from his colleagues.

“Just daily costs of living in Bloomington and being a student here,” Dunbar said, “The salaries in the school of music are not…they’re not as good as they are in other departments here at IU.  I know a lot of my colleagues that are AIs in the voice department have to have other jobs to make ends meet.”

Dunbar hasn’t had to take jobs other than giving private voice lessons, but he said in order to make money on studio time, a significant set-up cost is required.

“Just the cost of running a studio, getting all of the library materials, all of the song anthologies — just the vocal repertoire that you need to teach a wide range of students — is a considerable additional cost.”

The report — using numbers its authors say they can’t conclusively back up, but which support Dunbar’s assertions — shows music school TA’s earn less than half of what many of their counterparts in the sciences and humanities earn per year.  On top of that, said report co-author Nick Clark, music school students pay a number of fees which exceed those paid by students in other areas of study.

“So here we have graduate student employees who are making less than almost all their peers at the institution and yet are paying more into the institution at the same time,” Clark said.

The Jacobs School website says grad students are charged more than $2400 a year in fees, an amount equal to about a fourth of the average yearly TA salary.  Richards says the fees are used to help keep professor pay competitive with institutions like New York’s Juilliard School.  About 2/3 of the cost is the Jacobs School program fee — a cost which is now charged to all incoming grad students and one which replaced the applied music fee the department used to charge only those students whose focus is performance.  While Dunbar says institution of the program fee caused an uproar among graduate instructors, Jacobs School Chief Financial Officer Royce Deckard says the suggestion came not from music school brass, but from Bloomington campus leaders, who submit each department’s fee schedule to IU trustees.

“[The fee] more or less came down from the campus when we were discussing our needs financially,” Deckard said.  “It’s sort of come down as an idea from the campus — that possibility that we do a program fee as opposed to a performance fee.”

With the university forced to cut costs in the face of declining revenue from the state, sizable stipend increases for graduate student instructors appear unlikely.  While the Jacobs School has received tens of millions of dollars in gifts in recent years, Dean Gwyn Richards says the money is earmarked for scholarships, not employee pay.

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