Duke graduate students join national fight for better hours, wages

Posted August 23, 2016

— Graduate students at Duke University are joining students around the country in a fight for better hours.

The students are reacting to a decision Tuesday from the National Labor Relations Board to allow graduate students at private universities to organize into unions.

Students at Duke hope to be able to negotiate better benefits, transparent wages and obtain clearer policies about work expectations.

A statement from the Service Employees International Union said that colleges and universities are increasingly relying on graduate workers and non-tenured workers for instruction and research. Nearly 70 percent of all professors in non-tenure positions, including adjunct instructors and 31 percent of those workers live near or below the poverty line, they said.

“Colleges and universities that used to provide a pathway to the American Dream are now becoming a road to poverty for students who find themselves saddled with debt and graduate workers and faculty who are unable to support their families on low pay,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.

Graduate assistants at Duke joined other students from Northwestern University, St. Louis University and American University, among others, to take immediate steps toward building unions with their co-workers


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  • Ben Hill Aug 24, 2016
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    I vetted my PI and thesis committee to make sure the lack of instruction wouldn't be an issue. I did so based on advice from existing students. Your situation was unfortunate, but possibly avoidable had you done the same.

    As for the income inequality, your professors already got their education and were making useful contributions to their field to EARN their income. Students should be focused on learning so they too can achieve what the professors have. People do not start at the top, but instead need to work to earn their way there.

    And these poor students get a stipend (typically 20-30K) as well as tuition and health insurance provided by the university. If you add in the cost of tuition and insurance, these students receive a total compensation somewhere around 50-70K depending on the program and school. Care to discuss this alleged inequality further?

  • Aiden Audric Aug 24, 2016
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    My professors who lived comfortably (based on cars, clothes, and toys) talked freely about the research they do - one in particular talked about computer engineering contributions he was making in the medical field.

    From a real-world expert, I got a total of two days of instruction. Then he was off to do more research.

    I got taught by a grad student who I didn't sign up for the rest of the semester.

    I tended to see the professors who were there every day driving around in beat up cars wearing their discount store clothes.

    Educators should not live near or in poverty while a few researchers take the cash. I get that the university is a business and they need researchers doing research to bring in cash and prestige.

    But to sell them as stellar educators then get the bait-and-switch at the end... and pay their surrogates to live in poverty?

    I'm not sure how far the students will get, but this inequality is obviously untenable.

  • Skip Harris Aug 23, 2016
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    My heart bleeds for these poor souls!

  • Ben Hill Aug 23, 2016
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    Most graduate programs cover the student's tuition AND pay the student a stipend. Student's can also apply for fellowships to get financial support. Most graduate students get paid to earn their degree but that's not enough for them?