Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
In my short time at the University of Maryland, I've developed real affection for graduate students. I admire the teaching assistants who break a sweat trying to corral a dead discussion section into debating an arcane text, or the grads who take over for an absent, way-too-tenured professor, and inject life into a class previously defined by Facebook and snoring. They aren't all perfect, but many graduate students possess intensity and hunger.
Unfortunately, however, that hunger may be physical as well as figurative. By any economic measure, graduate student workers — a group including TAs, research assistants and administrative assistants — get a raw deal at this university. According to a Graduate Assistant Advisory Committee survey, after subtracting mandatory university fees, the average graduate worker makes only $18,100 a year.
I use the term "worker" because graduate students obviously do work. This university, however, doesn't recognize them as such. Graduate students don't sign legally binding contracts, and they don't have collective bargaining rights. This makes it easier for employers to abuse and overwork the graduates they supervise. In fact, the committee's survey found the average graduate assistant works more hours every week than the graduate school's stated limit.
A bill by state Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) would guarantee graduate workers collective bargaining rights at universities in the University System of Maryland. Graduates have bargaining rights at all private institutions of higher learning, but university President Wallace Loh has remained mum on Korman's proposal. Coming from an administration that refuses to pay workers Prince George's County minimum wage and charges employees exorbitant parking rates, this cowardice is unsurprising.
Graduate students receive even worse treatment from their representatives in Washington, D.C. The white nationalist cabal that is the Republican Party wants to wring every available cent out of American graduate workers.
The GOP tax plan would tax graduate students' tuition waivers as income. That means that a graduate assistant would be taxed on their stipend, as well as the tuition their university waived for taking an assistant job. According to the Graduate Student Government, a graduate assistant at this university making the minimum possible stipend of $16,000 would see their taxable income rise to $29,000.
This proposal would put an even greater burden on our graduate assistants. Nationally, it means more debt and fewer graduate students. Facing an administration that derives power from deception, the United States needs more academics, not fewer.
Facing opposition from leadership in D.C. and College Park, grads at the very least deserve strong and stable student leadership. Yet the past few weeks have revealed they lack even that.
GSG President Stephanie Cork is currently under an impeachment investigation for potentially misusing GSG funds after $30,000 went missing. In response, Cork motioned for a counter-impeachment investigation into two GSG vice presidents for collusion against her. Soon after, Cork fired her chief of staff. There scarcely could be a worse time for the GSG to devolve into chaos, or its leader to adopt the rhetoric of a Trump tweet.
The state of Maryland, this university, the federal government and student leaders are failing graduate assistants. They deserve better.
Max Foley-Keene, opinion editor, is a sophomore government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.