OP-EDS

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April 23, 2010

“Why we Organize” over-simplifies grad funding tradeoffs

I found Joe Feinberg’s article arguing for more graduate student funding to have such ridiculously over-the-top and flawed arguments as to be a parody of itself.

I found Joe Feinberg’s article arguing for more graduate student funding (“Why we organize,” April 16th) to have such ridiculously over-the-top and flawed arguments as to be a parody of itself.

It is inexcusable for Mr. Feinberg to compare his self-styled “banal poverty” of “wine and cheese receptions” to the true difficulties of the working poor. Mr. Feinberg, a seventh-year anthropology student, has the benefit of eleven years of post-secondary education, which puts him in a substantively different category.

An even greater flaw in the article, though, was that it failed to grapple with the biggest problem of a grad student pay raise—that somebody has to pay the piper. Just as above-market wages in a unionized industry must ultimately be borne by consumers and shareholders, somebody would have to pay for an increase in graduate student pay. As we’ve learned in the past year, University budget cuts tend to most hurt those at the bottom of the pay scale. So, if Mr. Feinberg would like to finance his pay raise through cuts elsewhere, he will likely take money out of the pockets of those who are truly living off of a minimum wage.

Of course, the other way to pay for an increase in pay is to raise more money. Graduate students’ pays come essentially from tuition-paying students in the College and professional schools. Since grad students are not actually producing anything, their livelihood is essentially a grant from their tuition-paying fellow students. If Mr. Feinberg wants more money from this source, he had best do a better job explaining why undergraduates should take on more student loans to give him a raise.

I suspect that most undergrads would balk and encourage Mr. Feinberg to complete his dissertation and find a job. After all, his continued “banal poverty” is a matter of choice. To be sure, the academic job market is a brutal affair. Though it offers a life of comfort and respect to the most successful, it offers few consolation prizes—especially to students in disciplines without private sector applications. Of course, unlike those who work for minimum wage because they have no alternative, Mr. Feinberg and his compatriots knew the risks going in and willingly chose to play academia’s version of Russian roulette. He also knew what kind of financing he was going to receive while studying, and that has only improved since he began his tenure at the University.

If GSU wishes for a raise, it cannot treat higher pay as an entitlement. It isn’t. Instead, it has to explain to its tuition-paying fellow students why higher pay would in fact better achieve the aims of the academy and would be worth the sacrifices that would be imposed on others. Until GSU does so, the rest of the University’s students should applaud the administration for holding the line and protecting their interests.

Ben Field

Class of 2010

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