‘Overworked and underpaid!’: Graduate Students rally at the tower

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Holding the sign, Erika Slaymaker, left, Riad Azar, and Kelly Houck lead the march for higher graduate worker’s wages on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.

Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

Hundreds of students rallied in front of the UT Tower on Wednesday in support of better graduate student funding, chanting, “Overworked and underpaid. We demand a living wage!”

The organizers of the rally — a graduate student group called Underpaid at UT — delivered a petition requesting members of the University Budget Council, chaired by President Gregory Fenves, to fully fund graduate student tuition by next fall and to produce a plan to pay graduate students a living wage.

Zoya Brumberg, a member of Underpaid at UT and American studies graduate student, said she hopes the rally brings attention to pervasive financial struggles amongst UT graduate students. Brumberg said in an email that even with loans and a second job, she has barely enough savings to cover a medical emergency.

“There was a lot of vigor and anger that felt truly palpable today,” Brumberg said. “I have a lot of hope for where this movement could go.”

Underpaid at UT emerged from the Graduate Student Labor Committee, which was formed in 2018 to study graduate student labor conditions, Brumberg said.

 

That committee found UT pays graduate students less than many peer institutions, and no UT college pays their average graduate student enough to meet the cost of living in Austin, which is an estimated $25,000 annually, committee chair Cassie Donnelly said.

“Having those facts, analyzing them and putting something together was a huge game changer,” classics graduate student Donnelly said. “It made the University have to engage with us.”

Though graduate programs are traditionally expected to cover graduate student tuition, UT currently leaves graduates on the hook to pay, on average, over $1,000 in tuition per semester, said Donnelly. Some UT colleges and departments try to fill the gap with money originally intended for research or faculty development, but many graduate students still pay out of pocket. The committee started an online petition three weeks ago asking the University to cover graduate student tuition, which already has 3,300 signatures and is still circulating. At least 17% of graduate students and at least 15% of UT faculty have signed the petition, Donnelly said. 

English associate professor Elizabeth Hedrick signed the petition and asked her undergraduate classes to follow suit.

“If we want our graduate school programs to be internationally competitive, then we have to put our money where our mouth is,” Hedrick said.