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March 2, 2015

Graduate students protest “ballooning” student life fee

More than 50 members of Graduate Students United (GSU) assembled in protest on the main quad on Friday to demand that the University abolish the Student Life Fee (SLF). GSU is an independent student organization that seeks to raise graduate students’ stipends and health benefits—and reduce student fees—via bargaining with the University. Following a rally last month where GSU members voiced their opposition to the SLF, and support for measures to reduce costs for international students and student-parents, GSU published an online petition, titled “Unfeesible,” which as of press time had 484 signatures.

Basil Salem, a fifth-year graduate student in history, read the petition aloud as part of the protest, which also featured lines of GSU members holding balloons to “symbolize ballooning fees,” he said. According to information in the Chicago Maroon archives, the SLF for graduate students has increased by 87.5 percent from academic year 2004–2005 to the present.

“Where does the Student Life Fee go? We don’t really know, since our bills are not itemized…. The Student Life Fee is just one of many fees that add to the financial burden of attending graduate school and erode graduate students’ quality of life,” Salem said.

Eric Powell, a third-year graduate student in English literature, said that while he objects to the dollar amount of the SLF and supports increased University transparency about how it is spent, his primary goal is to see University officials discusses these issues with GSU directly.

“It really depends on how information is released. Usually, in response to [protests], the University sends out a campus-wide e-mail. I would be willing to hear out proposals to perhaps tie the [SLF] to the rate at which graduate students’ wages increase, or to freeze increases in the [SLF]. But  whatever they come up with will not be satisfying unless there is some kind of dialogue,” Powell said.

Powell also said that the protest and petition were also intended as a means of bringing the University to recognize the GSU as a representative of graduate students’ interests.

“The University has been particularly unwilling to engage in any kind of conversation with [GSU], which is a clear attempt to say that we have no authority, and no legitimacy,” Powell said. “If we don’t receive a response to the petition within a week, then we will consider our next steps.”

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