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Duke grad students protest proposed GOP tax plan

Posted November 29, 2017 2:01 p.m. EST
Updated November 29, 2017 6:26 p.m. EST

— A group of Duke University graduate students walked out of their jobs and research and teaching positions Wednesday afternoon in protest of the proposed Republican tax bill and its effect on students and educators in higher education.

Students said the bill would change the course of their lives and lead to them dropping out of school, describing the proposal as "devastating."

Anastasia Karklina is from a poor family in Eastern Europe. She said to get to Duke, as a PhD student, took a lot.

"It's a reality of life," she said. "I would not be here. I would not be able to continue the program."

Many grad students teach classes, and conduct research. In exchange, their tuition is covered, and they get a living stipend.

The Republican tax plan would force grad students to pay income tax on that tuition.

"We get paid about $25,000 in stipends annually," student Michael Burrows said. "And suddenly we would be on the hook for about $90,000 taxable income after this kind of change."

For many, it's not possible.

"It would mean I would either have to get a job, several other jobs, or drop out of grad school,"  Jess Issacharoff said.

The students say it would not affect just them, but everyone, as they're conducting important research.

"There are people who are working on drugs to help stop cancer," chemistry student Jeaovanna Rios said. "It's so important for us to be in the lab."

They also worry it would force low income students out.

"We make Duke University what it is," Karklina said. "We run this university."

There are around 8,600 graduate students on's campus, and a graduate student who helped organize Wednesday's event estimated around 3,000 of them on the campus would be impacted by the tax plan.

“The tax bill that is currently being debated in Congress contains many provisions that could do grievous harm to higher education, and to students who are seeking to improve their lives and contribute to society," spokesperson Michael Schoenfeld said.

"Duke has been working with other universities in North Carolina, and national associations, to support students and employees, and to advocate for sensible tax policies that create opportunity and advancement, not punish them.”

Students from other universities are concerned as well.

UNC graduate students are holding a phone bank Wednesday night to contact elected officials, telling them not to support the plan. Their goal is to make 1,000 calls.

“Congress gave our research enterprise a strong vote of confidence this year with increased funding for agencies like the National Institutes of Health, but that funding relies on universities and graduate students to carry out those grants," UNC System President Margaret Spellings said in a statement. "Increasing taxes on graduate students will drive talented people away from higher education, undermine groundbreaking research and impose excessive and unnecessary financial hardship on our graduate students.”