I am a grad student at one of the University of California campuses. In my offer letter, it stated:

Congratulations! On behalf of the Committee on Admissions and Awards and the Graduate Group in (Department name), I am pleased to offer you the following financial support for the upcoming 4 years. The funding will be in the form of a Graduate Student Researcher, Fellowship and Teaching Assistant...The details of your award are as follows:

Summer Support with Professor X (3 months at $5000.00 per month) $15,000.00

I just got my first summer paycheck and the amount is only around $4000 (before tax). I sent some emails to grad coordinator, and some other parts of university but they didn't answer. I also sent an email to the professor and he answered "The pay check amount is true. Sorry, there is no more fund available for you at the moment!"

How is it possible? Can a professors behave like this? Why the offer letter of the university with the signature of the Department chairman below it, specifies some amount of money but the pay check is in different amount? How should I proceed?

  • 3
    This was originally closed because it was not clear whether this was a misunderstanding about how payroll works in the US, or an actual discrepancy. After OP's edit, this seems to be resolved in favor of the latter. So, I am hammering it back open.
    – cag51
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 0:30
  • 2
    When in the month did you start? If you started, say, a week into the month, your first paycheck could conceivably be pro-rated accordingly (with a partial paycheck in your fourth/final month for the one week you work that month to fill out your three months).
    – RLH
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 0:53
  • I assume that the "first summer paycheck" is for one month of work, is that correct? Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 3:41
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    You're sure you are looking at the gross pay? Even the "before tax" amount might still be subject to deductions for health insurance, retirement contributions, mandatory fees, etc, which could in principle amount to $1000 per paycheck. Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 17:55
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    Was your first paycheck for a full month's of work? Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 15:34

3 Answers 3


I’m at the University of California and know a few things about how things work there. Your story is a bit too strange to be fully believable. The overwhelmingly most likely explanation is that you are not in fact getting paid less than what the offer letter said, but there is some miscommunication or misconception about what the offer letter and/or your payroll says. This may involve taxes, or some difficult to parse legalese or accounting language in the offer letter and/or the payroll printout.

A slightly less probable, but possible, explanation, is that there was a clerical error in the entry of your salary details into the system, that led to you in fact getting paid a different amount than you are supposed to. This actually happened to me when I started a postdoc (also at a UC school), and was easily corrected when I pointed it out.

The least likely explanation is that they are intentionally paying you less than they promised. In the UC system this would be essentially impossible to get away with, and would lead to quite severe consequences for anyone who was complicit, such as disciplinary action. Whatever the consequences to the people behind such a decision, I believe the university would not allow this to happen, and would move mountains to ensure that its commitment to you was honored.

Please talk to your department contacts to get this sorted out. The graduate program coordinator, graduate program chair, department vice chairs and chair, and department business manager would all be good places to start. Good luck! (And if it’s not too difficult, come back to update us on what happened… :-))

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    In the case of faculty salaries, a discrepancy could arise if someone appointed for 9 months expected to get 1/9 of the annual salary each month but actually got 1/12 because payments are spread out over the whole year. I'm not aware of such an arrangement for graduate student stipends, but I'm probably not aware of lots of things that happen in California. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 1:56
  • I edited my question and added more information.
    – user144805
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 0:10
  • @ensan3kamel ok, that’s interesting but I can’t really advise you at that level of detail. As I said, talk to administrators at your department. They made you a promise, and they should, and hopefully will, honor it.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 0:37
  • Couldn't a clerical error also have happened when the offer letter was drafted? I.e., they might be paying exactly what they wanted to offer, bit accidently ordered more.
    – Maeher
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 11:59
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    @Maeher sure, it’s theoretically possible, but this falls under the category of “they are intentionally paying you less than they promised”, the least likely option I outlined. From OP’s perspective it should not matter whether they intended to write that amount in the offer letter. Assuming they didn’t make an obvious mistake like adding an extra zero to the salary figure, if OP used that as the basis for deciding to join this program, the promise should be honored even if it was made in error.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 16:58

Before doing anything I would suggest to check with HR. They may simply made a mistake...


Your letter of offer is a binding contract between you and the University. They must pay you the money you were offered for the work described.

Pursue your options inside the University, ie, Department, Personnel, Payroll, Dean's Office, etc.

If you do not get a correction from the University you can pursue legal action. You will need to consult a lawyer for that. The cost of a lawyer should be small or nonexistent since they will ask the University to pay those fees.

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