The U.S. House of Representatives passed a tax plan Thursday that would place a crushing financial burden on thousands of graduate students at UC Berkeley and across the country.
If approved as law, the plan would require that college employees pay income tax on waived tuition — a change from current policy that could add thousands to their yearly bills. The campus and student leaders must mobilize to prevent this devastating affront to graduate students from becoming reality.
Based on a review by UC Berkeley physics graduate student Vetri Velan, public school graduate students would see tax increases of about 30 to 60 percent. Graduate students already scramble to cover their basic needs on a campus nestled right smack in the middle of the Bay Area’s housing crisis.
“When looking at the, package you’re being offered to come to Berkeley or go to (University of Wisconsin)-Madison, (it’s) the same dollar amount, but it goes a lot farther at Wisconsin,” said UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly President Kena Hazelwood-Carter to The Daily Californian.
Across the UC system, UC Berkeley would be disproportionately affected, with one of the highest number of graduate students among the 10 campuses (about 11,000). The tax plan may reduce the number of students willing to attend UC Berkeley graduate schools, shrinking a population essential to research production and the teaching capacity of the campus.
But when the campus reached out to graduate students about the tax plan, its message was unspecific, reactionary and ineffective. A spam email sent from an account masquerading as campus leadership circulated, telling graduate students that the campus would protect them against the potential consequences of the GOP tax plan.
Dean of the Graduate Division Fiona Doyle responded, writing that the campus is not in a position to “pledge that all UC Berkeley GSIs and GSRs will be guaranteed the same quality of life and standards of living as the present,” as the spam email had alleged.
Doyle acknowledges the UC Berkeley administration is “energetically engaging” its advocates to oppose the tax proposal. But campus administrators must clarify the efforts they are making to ameliorate the tax burden on graduate students, rather than just sending a last-minute email instructing students to write to their hometown paper in panic.
The UC Student Association organizes regular trips to lobby in Washington, D.C. But the institution has recently been plagued by internal division, with graduate students opting to break away in September. It is important that student leaders don’t allow this divide to distract from or weaken their lobbying efforts, especially with a lobbying trip to D.C. planned by the ASUC’s External Affairs Vice President’s office (which works closely with the UCSA) at the beginning of December. The tax plan will likely be a focus of lobbying efforts, according to EAVP Rigel Robinson.
Most graduate students are on campuses pursuing passions and ideas that can improve the world for little gain. The tax plan shouldn’t make that pursuit harder.