Graduate students at Rutgers join national protest of GOP tax cuts
Rutgers graduate students joined members of more than 50 universities across the country in an organized walkout, protesting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was passed earlier this month by House Republicans.
On Tuesday afternoon, a demonstration to raise awareness for the GOP tax plan brought together students — in conjunction with the national Graduate Student Walkout — outside of Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus.
The event started at 1 p.m. and opted for a less traditional walkout, encouraging students, faculty and members of the community to take part in the protest without having to leave their classes to show support.
Protesters repeated chants like “no tuition, without remission” and “if we don’t get it, shut it down” among others throughout the event.
“Some people did walk out, but some of these people are wanting to get out but didn’t have classes, so this is a way for them to participate,” said Austin Baker, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Philosophy and member of the Rutgers Union.
Protests against the bill began earlier this month, with six clinical Ph.D. students from the University of Southern California, since then the movement has gained national attention, gathering more than 6,000 supporters, contacting over 51 universities. The movement has also partnered with Save Grad Ed, a consortium of students from six universities who will be forced to withdrawal from their universities as a result of the bill, according to their site.
The current version of the bill, to be voted on by the Senate later this week, does not include the provision the group campaigned against the day of the protest, which affects tax on tuition remission for graduate students, Baker said.
Baker said that students may never see the $4,000 to $25,000 that they are awarded in yearly remissions. For bookkeeping reasons, the University pays itself this tuition on their behalf. Additionally, graduate students are paid a stipend by the University as registered employees, and this money helps alleviate food costs and other such necessities.
“If the bill goes through, the money we never see, that’s kind of this technicality of the University, would then be taxable income,” she said.
Baker said the Rutgers Union that some students at the University would see an average of $3,000 in yearly University student taxes, with an upward of $10,000 at other schools where tuition is higher.
The bill also does away with student loan tax reduction, an additional $2,000 students would fail to collect yearly, Baker said.
“The bill would basically make graduate education pretty much untenable for people who aren't independently employed, and what this demonstration at Rutgers and on a national level is doing is showing that graduate students are integral to the function of the University,” she said.
Baker said she contacted head members of her department, informing them of the event prior to the demonstration. They ensured her that there would be no ramifications for participating students, information which she then passed on to other departments, while contacting members of the Rutgers Union.
“I think the kind of position of the Republican lawmakers right now is that people just don't care enough about graduate students to be actively fighting this, and they think they can kind of slip this under the rug and it’s just free money to take,” she said.
Baker said University President Robert L. Barchi and Dean of the Graduate School of Education Wanda Blanchett expressed their support in favor of graduate students. Despite their verbal support and advising students to contact their elected officials, students asked that fees not fall on graduate students by lowering degrees and ultimately eliminating tuition for graduate education.
“Barchi said that he didn't want to comment on counterfactual specifics about the bill, that he didn’t want to talk about ‘what ifs’ but that he has our back,” she said. “While the platitudes are nice and I appreciate them, I want to see more, and I think the attitude here is, we want to see more specific promises on behalf of the University.”
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article quoted Baker saying students never see $4,000 to $5,000 in yearly remissions. Baker said that students may never see the $4,000 to $25,000 that they are awarded in yearly remissions because the University pays itself this tuition on their behalf.