Tuesday morning, University of Colorado-Boulder graduate students, undergraduates, and faculty members participated in a walkout to protest student fees. Organized by the Committee on Rights and Compensation (CRC) – the CU-Boulder graduate student labor union – the walkout started at Farrand Field and ended at the Regents Building, where students lined up to pay their fees in person. This was a symbolic, ceremonial gesture, complete with drums, chants, and dancing.
I was there, and from my perspective, the event was meant to be a spectacle – for instance, rice and beans were served to participants – and to demonstrate, through sheer numbers, the importance we graduate students place on the student fee issue.
For those unaware of the student fee issue, once every semester, about 8 percent is taken out of our salaries to pay for software and services that we require to do our jobs. Additionally, despite being a state school, these student fees finance the construction and repair of buildings on campus. These student fees come out to the “cool” tune of about $2,000 every year.
This money could be better used elsewhere – say, on rent, considering the exorbitant cost of living in the Denver-Boulder area. The work we do for our salaries comes in the form of teaching, research, grading, and studying. Indeed, some graduate students have to take on outside work in order to make ends meet. It should go without saying (though this is apparently not the case), that these mandatory fees – again, fees that we must pay in order to work – are a burden. It should also go without saying that to do our jobs to the best of our abilities, we – like all laborers – need to be able to adequately feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves.
Prior to the walkout, a campus-wide petition to end student fees garnered over 1,500 signatures across 40 departments. Per sources in and affiliated with the CRC, the walkout had a turnout of a 460 at Farrand Field and at least 500 by the end of the event. The University of North Carolina’s labor union also staged a walkout in solidarity.
Every graduate student is affected by these fees, but some are affected more than others. This is especially true for international students and graduate students with families and children. In the case of those with families, for example, our health insurance does not cover dependents. In the case of international students, they have visa restrictions preventing them from taking on additional work, even if doing so is required to meet their needs.
In light of such realizations, the turnout for this event is promising, and one can only hope that the powers that be recognize the urgent need to eliminate the student fees.
Since its inception in 2016, the CRC has fought for and won a 19.8 percent wage increase for teaching assistants. It has conducted research into graduate workers’ benefits at other Pac-12 universities. It has continued fighting for a living wage, as well as better health benefits, including that of the dependents of graduate workers. In the fall of 2018, when graduate students received their salaries three weeks late, the CRC brought the issue to the attention of local media.
There is strength in the union, and when petitions fall on deaf ears, we remember the old words of the Industrial Workers of the World: Direct action gets the goods.
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