Money, that's what they want


“First we took our classes / then we wrote up our MAs,” sang Joe Grim Feinberg, a fifth-year graduate student in anthropology and Graduate Students United (GSU) member, at March 12's Rally for Grad Funding outside Swift Hall. “Then we took exams / and we proposed to dissertate. / Then we did our research in the field so far away. / Then we looked into our pockets / and we found we had no pay.”

Feinberg's song, “Ballad of the Marooned Dissertation Writers,” kicked off the protest against the University’s exclusion of students admitted before 2007 from the Graduate Aid Initiative. The funding plan, announced in February 2007, gives incoming graduate students in the humanities, social sciences, and the Divinity School $19,000 each per year for five years, plus $3,000 for two summers of study. But for previously enrolled graduate students, who won't receive the funding, frustrations run deep—particularly following the Maroon’s February 26 report noted that the Office of the Provost’s Working Group overestimated the cost of extending the benefits to all students by nearly $24 million.

“Our faculty are the fifth-best paid in the nation,” shouted Eli Thorkelson, a second-year graduate student in anthropology and GSU member, from the stage. “But why don’t we compete with our peer institutions on [graduate-student] teaching pay? It seems clear that they can afford it—Cornell has the best-paid teaching assistants and a lower endowment.”

The disparity between current and future graduate students' funding situations, especially given the working group’s miscalculation, is unfortunate, said Deputy Provost for Graduate Education Cathy Cohen later that day. “Everyone agrees our teaching wages are too low.” To develop a long-term solution, the provost’s office has heeded the working group's recommendation to convene a committee that examines graduate students’ pay structure. The provost's office aims to have changes in place by the 2008-09 academic year. “That’s my hope and expectation,” Cohen said. “But we’re taking a different approach than in the past. Instead of doing something sporadic, we’re going to have an annual review of teaching salaries. … One good thing from this mobilization is that we will attend to teaching salaries in a way so that this problem won’t arise again in five years.”


Photo: Students protest the University’s exclusion of current students from the Graduate Aid Initiative.

March 21, 2008