Some grad students protest ‘exorbitant’ fees

About 60 University of Minnesota graduate students took to campus Monday to protest “exorbitant” student fees. The group, who call themselves âÄúEmaciated Gopher,âÄù convened at the Social Sciences Building around noon and marched across the Washington Avenue Bridge, ending up at Fraser Hall, where they delivered about 100 fee waiver requests. Students protesting were upset about student services fees, which they claim can eat up to 10 percent of the salary graduate students get for working as teaching and research assistants. They say when that 10 percent is taken out, they make less than a living wage. âÄúThis is a group of grad students that feel exploited by the U,âÄù Nicholas Hengen , a graduate student in the English department, said. Noah Ebner, a history graduate student, said the march was a way to raise awareness about the fee issue around campus. Ebner said at many other colleges across the country, student fees are waived as part of the assistantshipâÄôs compensation package, and the students feel that the University should adopt a similar model. âÄúWe donâÄôt necessarily feel itâÄôs fair we still have the onus of these fees,âÄù Ebner said. University spokesman Dan Wolter said the protest was the first the UniversityâÄôs administration had heard about the graduate studentsâÄô concerns. As part of their current compensation package, assistants have most, if not all, of their tuition covered, receive a stipend and many are eligible for the UniversityâÄôs health care coverage, Wolter said. Student services fees, the fees in question, are not typically covered in the package. According to University statistics, there are more than 14,000 graduate students enrolled at the University . Graduate School spokeswoman Gayla Marty said somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 receive some sort of assistantship from the University, although the value of each assistantship varies. Marty said the UniversityâÄôs compensation is âÄúcompetitive with other Big Ten institutions.âÄù Graduate and Professional Student Assembly President Kristi Kremers said the fees issue is one that has come up before. Currently, graduate assistants receive tuition waivers but not fee waivers, something Kremers said many graduate students would like to see changed. Workloads for graduate assistants have increased while compensation has remained the same, Kremers said. The issue is a concern for GAPSA, but with the current economic situation, Kremers said theyâÄôre more focused on maintaining the current number of assistantships offered by the University. This protest, however, was not associated with GAPSA, Ebner said, because they didnâÄôt feel it would be the most efficient way to make their voices heard. Wolter said the compensation package for graduate assistants was most recently examined in 2005 and that pay increases were implemented as a result. Since many assistants are attending classes as well as teaching them, the University still considers them students first, Wolter said. âÄúThis is part of their academic career; nobodyâÄôs going to be a TA or RA for 20 years,âÄù Wolter said. âÄúItâÄôs all a step in their education.âÄù