Faculty, graduate students feel impact of nine-month pay cycle

Laura Studley

Imagine this: It’s summer break, campus is nearly empty and most students have gone home, but some faculty don’t enjoy the luxury of a three-month vacation.

Colorado State University has opted to pay faculty on a nine-month pay cycle, going from Aug. 15-May 15.

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Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs Dan Bush works to support the faculty side of the University, including deans, vice provosts and vice presidents.

“At academic institutions, the tradition is that faculty are hired on nine month contracts or nine-month appointments,” Bush said. “That is, they’re paid through the academic year.”

Bush said unless a faculty member is teaching a summer class, they are not required to be on campus, thus forfeiting salary pay for those three months.

“(Faculty) are not obligated to be here, and that’s why we don’t do vacations during the nine month(s) because we feel that there’s three months where people can take care of their business,” Bush said. “Now, that isn’t to say that people don’t have opportunities to be away from campus. When we have holidays, of course, people are paid.”

How am I going to keep taking out loans and then have a job that’s never going to pay those back. I’ve had numerous instructors say to me ‘You really need to stop your other jobs so that you can focus on your research’ but I can’t because I have bills.” Ellen Ratajack, a psychology P.h.D student

Budgeting becomes important in the summer on a nine-month salary, according to professors on campus, including assistant journalism and media communication professor Michael Humphrey.

“If you’re not used to budgeting, you might make a mistake the first year,” Humphrey said. “I think it’s important to understand what a nine-month salary looks like. Because, if you got your paycheck and thought, ‘Oh this is what I can spend for the month,’ you’re going to be in a lot of trouble in the summer.”

Colorado State University journalism and media communication professor Mike Humphrey poses in his office after discussing his thoughts on teachers being on a nine-month pay plan. Humphrey said he uses this schedule as an opportunity to save his money and earn interest on it for the summer months when he goes without pay. (Gaby Arregoces | Collegian)

Pay and financial benefits vary from position to position, Humphrey said. Graduate students have the opportunity to apply for a graduate assistantship where they are compensated to teach classes while completing their degrees.

While teaching, graduate students’ tuition is covered and a stipend is given at the beginning of each month. Ellen Ratajack, a psychology P.h.D. student, elaborated on the difficulties of living off the University stipend. Graduate students still have to pay student fees, which come out of their stipend, Ratajack said.

(Faculty) are not obligated to be here, and that’s why we don’t do vacations during the nine month because we feel that there’s three months were people can take care of their business. Now, that isn’t to say that people don’t have opportunities to be away from campus. When we have holidays, of course, people are paid.” Dan Bush, Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs

“How am I going to keep taking out loans and then have a job that’s never going to pay those back,” Ratajack said. “I’ve had numerous instructors say to me, ‘You really need to stop your other jobs so that you can focus on your research,’ but I can’t because I have bills.”

Looking at the month from a financial standpoint proves burdensome, said creative writing graduate student Emma Hyche, especially in August when the semester starts.

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“At the beginning of the year it’s a bit difficult… because you have to think, ‘Okay if I have a $1,000 student fee bill and my rent is $700 how am I going to (do that) because that’s already over what I make that month,” Hyche said.

A majority of graduate students have had to acquire summer jobs to make ends meet. Ratajack said that alongside her teaching position at CSU, she also teaches a class at Front Range Community College. Hyche waited tables during the summer to support herself financially.

“The stipend here doesn’t cover expenses,” Ratajack said. “And that’s not me living frivolously, that’s just basic bills.”

As a student who researches while teaching, Ratajack was able to get funding last summer but still has to plan for the possibility of not receiving grants.

“(The nine-month appointment) is really nice while we have it, but those summer months are always really stressful,” Ratajack said. “It’s hard because during the semester you still live paycheck to paycheck, but you’re trying to anticipate that you might not get funding for the summer.”

Knowing how to accommodate for not having summer pay requires planning, but Humphrey said this teaches valuable lessons.

“I actually think it’s really good for everybody to think about ‘what do I really need to live on,’ ‘what can I set aside,’ ‘what can I save,” Humphrey said. “And I think this job makes you think that way.”

Laura Studley can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @laurastudley_.