Thursday, April 14, 2005

Graduate Student Strike

Apparently graduate students at Yale and Columbia have gone on strike.

I must admit that this statement, from's article (Associated press), filled me with rage.

"Our relationship with graduate students is educational and collaborative, not an employer-employee relationship," said Columbia spokeswoman Alissa Kaplan Michaels, echoing the stance of Yale, Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania.

A.) We pay taxes, even if we have non-service fellowships and awards.

B.) Many of us work 50-60 hours a week. We work on holidays, weekends, and at night. We graduated at the top of our undergraduate classes and have received 1-7 years post-graduate training. We are among the names appearing on the papers detailing medical miracles and drug treatments. We do this for $15,000-$20,000 a year (many of us don't even have the option of student housing--my crappy one bedroom apartment costs $1400/month, and that's low-end for this area).

C.) In addition to our research, many of us teach. I direct and teach an undergraduate course without compensation. There is no faculty advisor. The undergraduates pay for this three-credit course taught solely by graduate student volunteers. The University gets thousands of dollars each fall for this course and doesn't have to spend a dime. We even pay for our own xeroxing.

D.) My health care sucks. People complain all of the time about their health care--try having to go to a student clinic when you are 30 and married and suffering from early-onset arthritis. There is nothing more refreshing than having some resident (who is sometimes younger than you) tell you that you should have an STD test since they are programmed to treat sniffling, strep-infected, sex-addicted undergrads. Don't get me started on mental-health provisions.

E.) The amount of faculty and university investment can be great, but often it is minimal. You may see your mentor once a month if you're lucky. You are the last person the administration helps, and when the University screws up and forgets to pay you at the end of the month, it's your problem. Wait until next month, and pray your checks don't bounce.

What can I do about this? The answer is...ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Whatever, that's fine--I made the decision to do this knowing full well of the drawbacks. It's wrong, however, to say that this relationship is collaborative. It's wrong to act like we don't deserve some employee rights since we often serve as employees when it's beneficial to the University. I'm not saying unionization is the answer, but the University could get off it's ass and try to make things more equal. They could try to give us a forum for change when change is painfully necessary. Offer me housing, offer me health care, or offer me free tacos--I don't care, just do something.


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