Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of hours graduate students typically work in a week. The story has been corrected.
A University of Colorado Boulder graduate student labor union is planning a week of sit-ins and a walk out to put pressure on university leaders to get rid of mandatory student fees.
The Committee on Rights and Compensation’s Week of Action, which starts Monday, will include four-hour sit-ins every day at the Regents Building and culminate with a walk out on Friday at noon.
The goal is to get a commitment from the university that it will waive fees for graduate student workers in the next academic year, said spokesman Alex Wolf-Root.
At nearly $1,800, mandatory fees for CU Boulder graduate students are 9% higher than comparable institutions, according to a graduate task force report released in August. Graduate students make $23,000 to $26,000 a year.
“In principle, it makes no sense to pay to do your job,” Wolf-Root said. “Fees are effectively tuition by another name and we see that by what they fund and what they go to.”
CU Boulder does not recognize the Committee on Rights and Compensation as a union and mediates graduate student issues through the United Government of Graduate Students. On Thursday, the university published a Q&A with administrators that downplayed issues raised by the union and highlighted positive changes made so far.
The university is currently considering task force recommendations to reduce or waive student fees, according to a statement from Executive Vice Provost for Academic Resource Management Ann Schmiesing and Graduate School Dean Scott Adler.
“Any changes to mandatory fees, including a recommendation for either a fee reduction or a fee remission, requires Board of Regents approval, which occurs in the spring of each year,” Schmiesing said.
The university also sees graduate students who work on campus — or who are “on appointment” — as students first and foremost, Schmiesing said.
“Our graduate students come to CU to study, do original research and receive training and mentorship, enabling them to transition from students to scholars and professionals,” she said. “When students leave CU with their graduate degrees, they are prepared to become the next generation of scholars, teachers, researchers, scientists and artists.”
The article also touted consistent raises in graduate student stipends and listed the current hourly wage of $29.18.
What that doesn’t account for is that graduate workers are paid for 20 hours a week of work while frequently working 40-60 hours a week, Wolf-Root said.
“Financial barriers are a major problem for equitable access to our profession, so their claim that we’re well-compensated is an insult to every graduate worker struggling to make ends meet while doing the research and teaching that CU depends on,” he said. “Regardless of what we are ‘first and foremost,’ graduate workers do necessary labor for the university, and as workers we deserve rights, including fair compensation. If the university truly doesn’t value our work as workers, I’d love to see this campus go a week without graduate workers in their labs and classrooms.”
Organizer Peter Shaffery said he hopes the events create a sense of urgency on campus and among administrators.
“One of the things we’ve been frustrated with the administration’s approach is that they’re pretty consistently dragging their heels,” he said. “If you look at most universities in the United States, it’s clear that CU Boulder is charging out sized fees and it seems like they’re drowning us in buzzwords rather than acknowledge that this is a real problem that needs to be solved.”