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Grad Students Across U.S. Push for $15 Dollar Minimum Wage

Grad Students Across U.S. Push for $15 Dollar Minimum Wage

“Fifteen dollars an hour represents a living wage in much of the U.S.”

This movement has done such a lovely job with the fast food industry. What could go wrong?

Inside Higher Ed reports:

Grad Students’ ‘Fight for $15’

Amazon announced this month that it would begin paying its workers at least $15 per hour, making it the latest employer to cede to labor activists who have been pushing for that new minimum wage nationally for several years.

Graduate assistants want $15 per hour, too, and are waging their own campus campaigns for it.

“Fifteen dollars an hour represents a living wage in much of the U.S.,” said Casey Williams, a Ph.D. candidate in literature at Duke University. “Grad workers, like all workers, deserve to earn enough to live decently in exchange for the research and teaching labor they provide universities, many of which depend on the work of grad students and adjunct professors to function, maintain prestige, secure key grants and attract tuition-paying undergraduates.”

Graduate students pushing for $15 per hour generally maintain that they are full-time, full-year employees, even if universities view them as part-time employees or as students learning to teach and do research. Fifteen dollars per hour times 40 hours per week, times 52 weeks per year, is $31,200. So $31,000 — which is on the high end of graduate student stipends nationally — has emerged as a new target minimum annual stipend.


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I’ll grant that graduate assistants are underpaid. But just because their pay goes up doesn’t mean the grants that fund them will also. It seems unlikely that this will work out to anyone’s satisfaction.

Jeff and I were the medical school reps on the graduate council, and at a meeting where they were discussing stipends, I looked at him and said “if you don’t tell them what I make, I won’t tell them what you make.” We then sat quietly for the duration, lest we be lynched on the spot. Rule #1 in life: never get used as an example.

DieJustAsHappy | October 28, 2018 at 3:47 pm

Is there labor worth what they’re demanding?

Except that graduate assistantships have almost always been considered (or at least thirty years ago, they were considered) to be a twenty hour a week gig for full time grad students.* $15 an hour will probably give departments an opportunity to reduce the stipend.

Not to mention, assistantships are almost never 2080 hours per year. More like 24 weeks, maybe 26. So even if they’re “full time” at forty hours per week, it’s still only $15,100 per year.

I received that amount thirty years ago. In the humanities. (Which are usually paid less.) I’d’ve thought grad students would’ve made more by now.

This has great potential for them to shoot themselves in the collective foot.

* Because the assistantship is for teaching; as a grad student, one is supposed to be primarily focused on one’s research. Teaching was an opportunity for some pay.

Grad students are paid a stipend…they are not paid hourly. This means that a $15 an hour minimum wage would not apply to them. Part of their compensation also comes in the form of tuition paid, which they never seem to account for.

If they punched a clock, I don’t think they would like the results. They wouldn’t get paid to take grad classes or do the work related to those classes. They wouldn’t get paid to do any prep work for TA jobs outside of classes, and they wouldn’t get paid to do any prep work for research outside of the lab. They’d also be paying for those grad classes.

It’s been many decades since I was in college, so I don’t know how things work now – but it seems like they’re asking for more money in addition to a full ride fellowship? I ask, because it seems to me that most schools would gladly agree to the increased “salary” if it meant an end to the (probably vastly more expensive) fellowship.

    healthguyfsu in reply to txvet2. | October 29, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    That’s what they don’t get. I’d posit that well over 99% of grad students at the big research universities don’t pay their own way (either through tuition or merit-based research proposal grants).

    The schools where students do pay their own way aren’t going to be able to afford that stipend. In the end, a mandate of this kind would only serve to close some grad programs nationwide.