Post Academic

Grad Student Stereotypes and How They Affect Fair Pay

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionGrad students at the University of Chicago are trying to organize because they are making wages under the poverty line and are not making as much as their peers in similar positions.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Teachers have unions, so why not grad students?

Oh, the backlash that met this idea was gnarly, and it was in the article itself. Deputy Provost Cathy Cohen said of the low wages, “We’re talking about students who will soon no longer be in this situation. We should be very careful with the imagery we’re using …. That’s not to say that they are not technically making wages below the poverty line, but just to say that a lot of people would jump for the opportunities they have.”

True, people who are smart enough to make it through grad school are smart enough and likely have the social support and networks to find another job. They do not have it as bad as those who have been in poverty all their lives.

But what does she mean by “students who will soon no longer be in this situation?” Has she seen the academic job market? Many of these students are going to be in this situation for a long time. And she can’t deny that the University of Chicago is benefiting from cheap grad-student labor.

The underlying assumption here is relates to the assumptions about professors and grad student “coffee jockeys”—that they are whiners who feel entitled, and it seems as if the provost is capitalizing on that.

More after the jump! First prize of the “Deutsche Barista Chanpionship 2009.” Image by Augenohrenmund, from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

The grad student who serves as the “human focal point” of the article is a 7th-year in anthropology, and he and his wife want to have a kid, but he can’t because he can’t afford it. A knee-jerk reaction would have been, “You should have researched what you were making and decided against grad school if you wanted to have a kid.”

But is it even relevant to take this grad student’s personal situation into account? Yes, people should be informed that grad school makes you poor, and anyone who expects creature comforts shouldn’t go to grad school, but the real issue is whether or not they get paid enough for the work they do. The answer is they do not, especially if their peers at other institutions make more.

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