Why Public Education Advocates Must Stand With NYC’s Grad Student Workers | #students | #parents


‘At every level of our education system, and at every school in New York City, educators and school workers must be guaranteed a fair wage and decent working conditions.’

Adi Talwar

Tisch School of the Arts, where learning went remote in March in response to coronavirus.

There’s a strike wave in New York City. If you’ve visited my alma mater, Columbia University, where grad student workers were on strike continuously for three weeks starting March 15, you know this to be true. And if you’ve been walking through Lower Manhattan, at New York University, you surely must have heard about it — on April 9, 96 percent of grad student workers with the Graduate Student Organizing Committee UAW voted to go on strike by the end of the month if their demands aren’t met. 

I proudly support grad student workers’ right to strike. And I encourage all public school parents and advocates to do the same. At every level of our education system, and at every school in New York City, educators and school workers must be guaranteed a fair wage and decent working conditions. I’m heartened by the courage of the workers at Columbia and NYU, as well as the unionized City University of New York workers, who are fighting for critical funding and fair treatment. Every student, parent, educator, and school worker in the City will benefit from their recent efforts.

I’ll start with my alma mater: If you visit Columbia University’s undergraduate admissions website, you will find a “by the numbers” page touting everything from the school’s individual NCAA Championship titles (58) to the array of Broadway theaters in New York City (40).

Numbers of greater concern to those on the picket line are conspicuously missing from the page, such as the size of Columbia’s endowment: $11.3 billion. Or the annual salary earned by Lee Bollinger, the best-compensated president in the Ivy League: $4.6 million. Or the pittance paid to the graduate students who do a huge chunk of the actual undergrad teaching: approximately $35,000 per year, which is nearly $10,000 less than the amount considered a living wage in New York City and almost half what a single undergraduate pays per year to attend.

That helps explain the most important number of all, the percentage of these employees who voted in March to authorize a strike in order to force Columbia to the bargaining table: 96 percent.

Think about it: Even as many graduate students are still paying off their own exorbitant undergraduate loans, they return to academia to teach the next generation, only to find that the lavishly funded institutions they work for scarcely value their efforts. Some workers even say they find their immigration statuses jeopardized by late pay or low wages. Meanwhile, the institutions they work for pay their executives exorbitant salaries, sit on ballooning endowments, and tout their world-class teaching to induce the next crop of incoming freshmen to take out loans of their own. 





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