Frequently Asked Questions

Does the University favor graduate student unionization?

Providing outstanding education and training for our graduate and professional students is at the core of Pitt’s mission. The University is not in favor of graduate student unionization because we do not believe that having a graduate student union would help us provide the best educational opportunities for our students.

Why does the University hold this view?

The University has many concerns about the possible formation of a graduate student union. Most importantly, we believe that graduate students are just that, students, and should be treated as students, not as employees, for the benefit of both the students and the University. 

Graduate students come to the University to get an education and to prepare for future careers, not to take a job. The University’s mission and responsibility are to provide graduate students with the opportunity to get a world-class education. We define our success in this by the accomplishments of our students. We are proud of our graduate programs and of the alumni of these programs. We see unionization as potentially distracting from our mission of educating students and disrupting our ability to offer the tailored and individualized programs that we think are critical for making our students as successful as possible.

PhD programs are critically important to the university and we believe that the constraints of a union contract, which requires a one-size-fits-all approach to a host of important issues is inconsistent with our proven approach to graduate education. 

But don’t students also work for the University?

Graduate students are students to whom the University provides financial support through tuition remission, stipends and payment of individual health insurance premiums. All of this contributes to allow students the financial means to pursue their education.

The research and teaching performed by graduate students are critical parts of the education and development of graduate students as experts in their domain. The mentoring, support, and advising provided to students engaged in these activities are critical for their success and are different than an employment relationship.

Graduate education prepares each student for future opportunities outside the University. By contrast, employers expect the activities of employees to be designed primarily to serve the employer, not prepare people for success in their future endeavors with other employers.

If graduate students do not have a union, will the University listen to their concerns?

As a University, we are committed to our graduate students and we are committed to a shared governance system. Educating graduate students and preparing them for future success in their careers is a crucial part of our educational mission to be a great University. These shared interests and mission are more powerful than any contract. We already involve students in the shared governance model for the University.

We recognize that many graduate students, and not just students in formal leadership positions or on committees, have opinions that should be heard. We have many formal and informal channels through which the opinions and ideas of students can influence University policy and practice. A union contract would mean that all discussions about issues addressed in the contract could only occur with union representatives.

What is Pitt doing about graduate student concerns?

In response to student concerns, Pitt has developed many opportunities for graduate students through University programs and through the support of the GPSG. These are listed on the graduate student resources Web site. Some examples include a new initiative to support graduate student teaching, the recent creation of new fellowships for humanities students, new opportunities for students to develop interdisciplinary workshops, increasing numbers of professional development programs and changes to the parental accommodations policies that were implemented a few years ago.

While we continue to strive for improvements, we believe that we currently have a system that works well for the great majority of our graduate students. Based on many conversations, and on recent survey data from the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG), we believe that we are meeting the needs of our graduate students as a whole.

Through our system of University governance, graduate students can raise concerns and suggest improvements formally and informally at the department, school, and university level. The GPSG is an important voice for students, as are other graduate student organizations. Moreover, individual students can approach faculty advisors, department chairs, program directors, ombudspeople, and other administrators with concerns and questions.

This collaborative model is an effective and collegial process that serves students well while preventing unnecessary conflict.

If unionization occurs, much of this system is likely to change, as a third party would stand between the students and the University. Where there are issues to be discussed or problems to be solved, we think that we can work on these issues directly without waiting to see what might emerge from the unionization process and what priorities a union might have.

How does the University financially support its graduate students? 

Pitt has many different kinds of graduate students. Most of Pitt’s approximately 10,000 graduate and professional students pay tuition for the education that they receive. Some of these students receive financial aid to reduce the tuition that they pay and all are eligible for health insurance.

Most PhD students at Pitt are supported by the University. The exact nature and amount of support depends on the program and the type of academic appointment. Students typically receive a tuition scholarship, a stipend, and health insurance coverage through their appointment as a teaching assistant, graduate student assistant, graduate student researcher or as a predoctoral fellow. The stipend typically provides support for two or three semesters of the year, and is typically guaranteed for four or more years, provided students remain in good academic standing. In addition, the University generally covers the costs of supported students’ comprehensive health insurance plans for the entire calendar year, including summer, regardless of a student’s appointment status for summer.  This health insurance plan (which would be categorized as platinum-level, were it available on the Affordable Care Act Marketplace) has very low out of pocket costs. 

Some examples of student support levels for the 2017-2018 academic year are below:

Teaching Assistant in Arts and Sciences

  • Tuition (in state) $22,290
  • Stipend (2 term) $18,450
  • Health Insurance (12 months) $4.443
  • Other Fees
  • For a total package of:  xxx

GSR Engineering

  • Tuition (out of state) $42,458
  • Stipend (3 term) $27,000
  • Health Insurance (12 months) $4.443
  • Other Fees
  • For a total package of:  xxx

Pitt maintains competitive levels of stipends and benefits for graduate students. This is important both to support our current students and to enable us to continue to attract the best students in the world. Combined, Pitt’s stipends and insurance are highly competitive with those at other major research universities.  Over the last five years, stipend levels for Pitt graduate students have increased by 13.6%, which is significantly more than the rate of inflation (6.7%) and more than increases in faculty and staff salaries during this time period.

  Average TA stipend for 2 semesters Annual % increase
FY18 18,450 3
FY17 17,910 3
FY16 17,452 2
FY15 17,130 2.5
FY14 16,710 2.5

If I have questions or concerns, what should I do?

There are many people in your department or graduate program who are available to help address your needs, but if this is not working, or if you just are not sure whom to ask, feel free to contact the graduate studies office. Whether your questions are about unionization or about other issues related to graduate students, you can reach the graduate studies office by sending an e-mail to gradstudent@pitt.edu, and we will try to connect you with the right people to answer your questions or meet your needs. Depending on the issue, you may also wish to contact the Graduate and Professional Student Government. The GPSG is an important voice for students, as are other graduate student organizations.