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University Suggests Grad Students Should Take Out a Loan To Keep Their Job, Which Is Working for the University

People gather to protest university working conditions and pay.

So you’re telling me these kids need to take out a loan to keep their job in order to pay off a loan to the people who gave them their job? And I thought Ron DeSantis’ idea of college was bad.

This Catch-22 is exactly what is happening to graduate students at the University of Florida. During a meeting with UF’s bargaining team to negotiate wages, the team of six-figure earners told the students that they should apply for loans and scholarships in order to afford to be able to work for the school. The paltry stipend that the students receive in exchange for doing essential work for the university is not even enough to cover their living expenses while they perform those duties.

As a general practice in most fields, grad students tend to serve as both employees (technically “graduate assistants,” doing research, teaching undergraduate courses, and the like) as well as students during their time of study. Due to the lack of staff at the University of Florida, the college would be unable to complete its most critical duties without the help of grad students. Yet some grad students at the school are using food stamps, living with parents, and taking gig economy jobs like driving for Uber while teaching a rigorous academic course load to undergraduates.

And the University of Florida students are not alone.

Thousands of grad students across the United States have spent years going on strike in order to protest against the universities that profit from their work. Many of these students are helping colleges with their essential functioning, yet work for well below the minimum wage. Ivy League Universities such as Harvard and Columbia have seen such protests, as well as large state universities across the country.

In Indiana, Ph.D. candidate Zara Anwarzai told The Guardian she receives less than $20,000 a year from the University of Bloomington and is unable to pay her bills without a side job. She also has chronic back pain, yet is unable to pay for the physical therapy that her doctor has recommended. International students at the University of Bloomington are in even more dire straights. Ph.D. candidate Simon Luo is paid just  $19,000 a year. “This is thousands of dollars below the minimum living wage in Bloomington, Indiana. I’m constantly unable to make ends meet,” Luo told the outlet. As an international student, Luo is not legally allowed to work a side job in the state of Indiana.

These examples are far from the worst. Lawrence Mullen, a Ph.D. student worker in the English department at the University at Buffalo said that pay for some graduate workers can be as low as $10,500 annually, less than a third of the minimum wage rate in the county. “At UB, we have a food bank, and last semester, fall 2021, 80% of the people who used that food bank were graduate students,” he said in a statement.

John Klecker, a graduate student worker in chemistry at Stony Brook in New York, told the outlet that students are turning to desperate measures in order to pay rent with their $22,500 stipends. Aside from part-time jobs, he says that many students have resorted to selling blood plasma or sex work. As if low pay wasn’t enough, many universities stop paying students altogether during summer months, making their financial situations even mored dire. The University of Florida is one such school.

Graduate students at some schools have begun staging mass walk outs in response to low pay. Unions representing over 9,000 faculty and graduate workers at Rutgers University in New Jersey recently went on strike, making this the first strike in the school’s 257-year history where faculty has been involved. While some schools continue to strike with no end in sight, others have been victorious in their efforts to receive fair compensation. Students at The New School in New York recently ended their strike after they reached a compromise with the university regarding compensation, healthcare, and job security. Many of the student’s professors were striking in solidarity. Similarly, a strike at Temple University ended recently after grad students accepted a deal with the school.

Grad students at other schools have been less fortunate. After school officials at the University of Texas caught wind of potential protests, they threatened students with police action. Nevertheless, the students have remained undaunted in their efforts to receive a living wage, and have joined up with the cause of thousands of other students across the country. Hopefully their efforts will not be in vain.

(featured image: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.