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There are 17 comments on BU Graduate Workers Launch Strike with Rally, Picket Plans

  1. Please be honest: the union gave BU administrators its contract proposals in June. BU dragged out the formal presentation of those proposals for months and only began making counteroffers in February. The union spent seven months waiting on counters, BU management has spent less than five weeks waiting. Their “frustrations” are entirely of their own making and to claim otherwise, even in management’s official propaganda newsletter, is deeply misleading and disingenuous.

  2. “Several rally speakers called on the University to use part of its $3 billion endowment to fund increases for the union. However, college endowments are largely made up of pledges and gifts donated by individuals toward specific reasons, such as to fund scholarships, to launch new programs, or to help build new facilities, and funds may not be redirected for any purpose.”

    Wanna win strikers? Then know the system in and out.

  3. “Ready to continue negotiations”????????????? The administration has sat on the proposal for months. They have shown no interest in treating this matter seriously.

  4. “Several rally speakers called on the University to use part of its $3 billion endowment to fund increases for the union. However, college endowments are largely made up of pledges and gifts donated by individuals toward specific reasons, such as to fund scholarships, to launch new programs, or to help build new facilities, and funds may not be redirected for any purpose.”

    Strange way to end this piece — couldn’t these pledges and gifts be used to off set other costs so that the overworked and underpaid graduate students are not rent burdened?????

    1. Thanks for your comment. The answer to your question is no. Colleges are not allowed to simply redirect endowment dollars randomly, which is why that point was included in the story. The American Council on Education explains endowments this way: “An endowment is an aggregation of assets invested by a college or university to support its educational and research mission in perpetuity. It represents a compact between a donor and an institution and links past, current, and future generations. These gifts also allow an institution to make commitments far into the future, knowing that resources to meet those commitments will continue to be available. An institution’s endowment actually comprises hundreds or thousands of individual donations. Endowments allow donors to transfer their private dollars to public purposes with the assurance that their gifts will serve these purposes for as long as the institution continues to exist.” — The editors

      1. And yet there are ways. Check out this piece in last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, especially the bit toward the end about Trinity Washington University: https://www-chronicle-com.ezproxy.bu.edu/article/your-pay-is-terrible-youre-not-alone. True, the piece does not specify the involvement, if any, of any endowment funds, but the principle is clear: keep morale high by paying attention to what your workers (at all levels) actually need.

        If BU can lead on so many other things in a principled way, why not on this? Or is that in conflict with its other priorities and, if so, then to what extent is it doing honest business as an educational institution?

        Here is a relevant quote from our mission statement: “We remain dedicated to our founding principles: that higher education should be accessible to all and that research, scholarship, artistic creation, and professional practice should be conducted in the service of the wider community—local and international.” (https://www.bu.edu/about/mission-statement/)

        “Dedication” is — or ought to be — more than a word.

        As for donor gifts and the endowment: Aren’t donors cultivated? If no donors have been interested in donating toward, say, graduate stipends, it must be that BU has not made it clear that this sort of commitment is one of its institutional priorities.

  5. “At the same time, we are concerned about the strike’s impact on teaching, research, and the lives of thousands of other students, and we are working to minimize that disruption…” What about the ones who remain in solidarity despite any so-called disruptions? Didn’t want to have “disruptions,” they why let it get to the point if a strike? Pay the grad students fairly!

  6. I am a graduate student who disagrees with this strike. Here are the reasons. I have to say it out loud to people around me, because I am a minority on this issue, and I feel being implicitly represented. I sent it to you so that you may find something useful in my arguments.

    1. No one forced any one of us to do a PhD or come to BU. You **agreed** to it, perhaps happily. And now you just decide the stipend is not enough for your liking.
    2. The strike has little to do with fairness or justice. It’s **self-serving** because it prevents your students from pursuing their studies, for your personal gain.
    3. Postponing the teaching is not like postponing carmaking, there are sensitive periods and complementarity in human capital accumulation, so what is not learned today is **missed** forever.
    4. Yes, the salary is low, and it was hard to be self-reliant during Covid. But being poor doesn’t justify abandoning one’s duties or **breaking agreements**.
    5. The hourly wage for TA and RA isn’t low, for TA (in Econ Dept) I spend about 10 hours a week, and for RA about 15 hours, less than the 20 hours that I get paid for.
    6. The exploring stage of research doesn’t yield results, and it is hard to ask the school or government to fully compensate for the effort. The young musicians or entrepreneurs at start-ups usually have low incomes before they succeed.
    7. When it comes to the stipend, why only compare with Harvard or MIT graduate students? Why not compare with PhDs in public schools or medical students who have to pay the tuition?
    8. Living in Boston is not cheap, but it also means access to **amenities**, many of which are free, like the Charles River. A $30,000 stipend in a village is less desirable than $25,000 in Boston since there is no place to spend the money.
    9. Access to the gym, university activities, seminars with distinguished guests, department-provided meals, travel, and research funds are benefits that are being **taken for granted.**
    10. And what is the price of attention, and support of the advisors? The human capital you accumulated can’t be monetized in the short run, but isn’t it precious? Being a PhD student at BU is a **privilege**, there are enough brilliant students who want it with half of the stipend.
    11. The department does not make us rich but it offers **stability**. It did not kick students out in qualifying exams or when they struggled with research. Professors support all kinds of career choices. Marc(the Dean) invented a department RA job in one semester during Covid so that I could receive the stipend.
    12. The union says the majority voted Yes. But there is severe **selection** into voting, few people who disagree like me would bother to vote No. And how much stipend is “fair”, based on what criteria? If I have to choose, I trust the school more than student activists in using the monopoly market power.
    13. The quickest way to live a financially abundant life is to quit immediately, I am serious, since some will have difficulty finding a desirable job in the end. Going on a strike and feeling good about yourself in a union is circuitous.
    14. For me, I didn’t cross the Pacific to join a union and ask for money, you certainly cross your “Ocean” hoping to **achieve something**. Our effort will never be fully compensated by the stipend. This path as a researcher is never about money in the first place. A higher stipend would be helpful for sure, but do we live in a world where people all set their wages by themselves?
    15. I disagree with this strike and I don’t like to be implicitly represented. I might be in the minority on this issue, but this is why I need to say it out loud. I will oppose the strike with my words and actions. Perhaps you will at least consider what “fair” really means before using this word.

    Best,
    Chen, Junhao (CJ)
    He/His
    PhD student at Boston University
    Econ Department

    1. Mr. CJ:

      I must first commend you for articulating your perspective and engaging in critical discourse. However, I must also address some points in your argument that exhibit logical fallacies and overlook key economic and ethical considerations.

      Your assertion that individuals “agreed happily” to pursue a PhD or attend BU overlooks systemic factors such as economic pressures and limited opportunities in academia. It is important to recognize that the decision to pursue higher education is often complex and influenced by various factors beyond personal preference.

      Characterizing the strike as “self-serving” neglects the collective nature of labor movements and the pursuit of fair working conditions. Strikes are often a last resort to address systemic issues and advocate for equitable treatment.

      While it is true that education has sensitive periods and cumulative effects, it is also crucial to acknowledge the value of fair compensation for labor. Workers deserve adequate wages and working conditions, especially in academia where research and teaching are central to institutional success.

      Poverty should never be used to justify exploitative practices or disregard contractual agreements. Fair compensation is a fundamental principle in labor rights and should not be compromised.

      Comparing hourly wages without considering workload and responsibilities oversimplifies the issue. The value of labor extends beyond the number of hours worked and encompasses expertise, contribution to research, and teaching effectiveness.

      Equating research exploration with entrepreneurial ventures overlooks the fundamental differences in risk, reward, and institutional support. Academic research requires sustained investment and should be valued accordingly.

      Comparisons with other institutions or fields should be made with careful consideration of contextual factors such as cost of living based on geography, institutional resources, and funding models. Therefore, it is not far-fetched or invalid to use MIT or Harvard as benchmarks versus a public institution such as University of Vermont

      Access to amenities and benefits should not detract from the core issue of fair compensation. Workers should not have to rely on supplementary benefits to offset inadequate wages.

      Appreciation for institutional support and resources should not undermine the legitimate demands for fair treatment and compensation. These benefits should be seen as essential components of a supportive academic environment, not as concessions for low wages.

      The value of advisor support and academic opportunities should not be conflated with fair compensation. Mentorship and professional development are integral parts of academia but should not be used to justify exploitative labor practices.

      Stability and support from the department are important, but they should not be used to justify inadequate wages or dismiss calls for fair treatment.

      The democratic process of union voting should be respected, and concerns about selection bias should be addressed through inclusive dialogue and representation. Have you talked to your union rep about this? This is why grievance mechanisms exist in a union.

      I think your point about quitting is severely incorrect and generally bad advice. Suggesting that quitting is the quickest path to financial abundance overlooks the ethical and collective dimensions of labor rights advocacy. Workers have a right to advocate for fair treatment without resorting to extreme measures. Your statement reflects a capitalist ideology that prioritizes individualistic success over collective action and solidarity. From a Marxist perspective, quitting immediately to pursue personal financial gain perpetuates the capitalist system’s exploitation and inequality. Going on strike and participating in collective action is not about feeling good individually but about challenging the unequal power dynamics inherent in capitalism and advocating for the rights and well-being of all workers. It’s a step towards reshaping societal structures rather than perpetuating individualistic pursuits within a flawed system.

      The pursuit of knowledge and research should not be divorced from considerations of fair compensation and equitable treatment. Academia should strive to uphold ethical standards and ensure that labor is justly rewarded.

      Disagreement with the strike is valid, but it is essential to engage in constructive dialogue and seek solutions that uphold the principles of fairness and justice for all workers in academia.

      In conclusion, while your perspective is valuable, it is crucial to consider the broader economic and ethical implications of labor rights and fair compensation in academia. Constructive dialogue and collective action are essential for addressing systemic issues and advocating for positive change.

      1. It would have been great to read your real thoughts on this, and not mainly ChatGPT.

        The guidelines state:
        “Use your own words. Copying someone else’s material is illegal. Comments should be your own original thoughts.”

        Inflation has hit hard over the last few years and BU should increase the pay accordingly for all workers in a timely manner, but the union needs to make a reasonable request.

        1. Hi — I’m a BU alumna and a grad worker at a west coast university. Louis said things that are genuine and resonate with graduate workers across the country, and to say that grad students’ opinions about why they strike is ChatGPT is frankly a little insulting.

    2. This is an incredibly self-serving comment, and shows zero understanding of labor value. Even if you think you’re above this strike, your fellow grad students are fighting to better your life as well.

      Maybe you should show more respect for those fighting to make earning a graduate degree a meaningful endeavor rather than a financial burden that could negatively impact students’ lives for years.

      If BU wants to keep its reputation as a top tier research university, it needs to pay its student workers like actual workers.

    3. CJ — I disagree. I want to remind you that the university doesn’t work without the labor of its graduate students, that they are heavily under-compensated for the teaching and research that they do.

      Also — students SHOULD be paid well for the exploratory research they do. How do we know something is productive, if we don’t interrogate other non-productive ideas? Passion does not pay the bills. Professors apply for grants and funding based on research WE do for THEM (at least in STEM). It is OUR data. OUR intellectual property.

      The stipend comparisons with the other Boston area universities is very fair, as students from all three schools live in the same areas. Public universities aren’t inherently lesser as I feel may come across from your comment, and many PhD students at public schools don’t pay their own tuition (we don’t, in California).

      I’m a PhD student in the University of California system, and a graduate of BU, and I support the strike. We were on strike last year at the UCs, and while we didn’t get the best contract, we now have so much more power to negotiate for a better contract next year. Grad students deserve better, all around the country.

  7. Right on, LOUIS AL-DUSSER! I was just about to respond to JUNHAO CHEN and I was happy to read your thorough reply. Bravo for saying what needed saying!

    I truly hope the unions at BU are successful in their efforts. That said, the university does not pay a living wage to many of its full-time staff, who often already have Masters degrees and PhDs. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I’m just saying that they’re never going to pay students fairly. The cost of living in this area is extreme and a study recently showed that a single person needs well over 100 grand a year to live comfortably here. Full-time staff at BU often don’t make anywhere near that amount.

    Will this place fall to its knees without student workers? Yes. Do they deserve more equitable pay and additional benefits? Yes.

    We’ve been warned not to tell you that we support you, but many of us on the staff do. I support BU unions! March on, students! Fight for your rights!

  8. Dear CJ,
    Relevant points, but I think you are mostly imprecise.
    1. Why is this a problem? The world changes, and inflation accelerates. This is not about linking BU at that moment.
    2. What is the point about fairness or justice? What is the problem of believing that one deserves better?
    3. If it is similar to carmaking, then it is justified? Once one postpones carmaking, we may see a depreciation of human capital too. People might forget processes.
    4. The agreement does not state anything about the loss of purchasing power in the case of inflation. Students try to negotiate, and the university avoids talking about that. There is nothing in the agreement that forbids strikes — they are legal!
    5. The hourly wage would make sense if grad students were able to decide how many hours to work (and potentially beyond the 20 hours). This is not the case.
    6. Grad students are not paid based on their own research — they are paid to either teach or help somebody else’s research.
    7. Because we should compare similar things. Medical training is different from research PhD in the humanities, for example. PhD candidates at Duke, for example, earn more than BU PhD candidates, and are in a much cheaper place to live.
    8. Amenities like the Charles River? Should I stop paying rent, then? Honestly, I wish I was able to have more money to spend in Boston — everything goes to rent, medical, and basic living expenses.
    9. I am glad they are taken for granted. Should I also be paying to watch a seminar in my own department while I am doing research?
    10. Just because something is a privilege it does not mean one can improve basic living conditions in the face of changes in the world.
    11. Stability? I know grad students who had medical issues and had to decide whether to proceed with treatment or pay rent. I am very glad it worked for you.
    12. Selection into voting? Most students voted. Most students voted Yes. If you did not vote this is your decision — after all, it affects us. This argument is basically saying: “I did not care at the time, but now I care, but still people should be responsible for me, but I don’t feel represented.” It sounds childish and not constructive.
    13. Quit immediately? Grad Students are asking for a liveable wage.
    14. I did not cross the Atlantic to join a union. I came to do research and teach. But the world changes, and the university refuses to negotiate, so now I find myself in this position. Also, nobody sets wages by themselves — generally, we call the process a bargain between sides.
    15. You are not implicitly represented. You are explicitly represented. There are many understandings of the word ‘fair’, and it is fair to disagree. However, you are talking as if everybody was against you, and you were the only one knowing what is right or wrong. I think that is not the case. Is the union a saint or a devil? That is not the case. We try to make lives better, and thinking together is the way.
    Best,

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