Graduate student workers protest fees

GSWU wants grad student worker fees to be lowered by $200 a year.

About 60 University of Minnesota graduate student workers and their supporters marched through campus Wednesday in a protest against student fees for graduate students. The students want the University to lower graduate student worker fees by $200 a year. The students currently pay between $500 and $600. Graduate Student Workers United, a student group formerly known as the Emaciated Gopher, organized the rally in hopes of sending a message to the administration about graduate student issues, said GSWU member and communication studies graduate student Melody Hoffmann. “We want to make sure the graduate student voice is heard and that the administration knows we’re watching and listening and paying attention,” Hoffmann said. Teaching assistants and research assistants are considered graduate student workers by the University. Roughly 30 percent of graduate students are considered graduate student workers by the University, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research. “Graduate students are paying an astronomical amount in fees, but many of them are also workers for the University,” GSWU member Elizabeth Johnson said. “To treat them only as students is inaccurate and unfair.” The $200 amount they want to reduce comes from analyzing the different recipients of student fees and removing pieces graduate students don’t use, she said. Ideally, GSWU would like the administration to eliminate student fees completely for graduate student workers, but considering the financial situation the University is in, lowering the fees would be an accomplishment, Hoffmann said. “In a sense, all [graduate students] are adding value to the University by conducting research and being a face for the University at conferences and publishing papers,” said Johnson, a graduate student studying geography. During the march, which started at the Social Sciences Building on West Bank and ended in Northrop Mall, GSWU members encouraged students to sign a petition asking the administration to lower graduate student worker fees. GSWU began circulating the petition in February and has since collected more than 400 signatures, English graduate student Pat Baehler said. The petition asks the administration to make a permanent cut in the amount of student fees graduate student workers pay and suggests the University make up the difference by cutting administrative salaries and delaying or reducing capital projects, such as the renovation of Northrop Auditorium. University officials did not respond to requests for comment. “In the context of a financial crisis, education and lower-paid workers are suffering, which shouldn’t be the case,” Johnson said. “We want the administration to find other ways to cut the budget.”