With their collective bargaining agreement set to expire June 30, graduate student workers and university administrators have been locked in negotiations since October 2022 over what students say are demands for a livable wage.
The Editorial Board believes graduate student workers are valuable members of the campus community, as they often serve as informal mentors to undergraduate students through their roles as teaching assistants. Many graduate students also conduct valuable research for professors, whether in labs or in university and library archives.
Thus, the Editorial Board calls on the Georgetown University administration to carefully cooperate with the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE), the union for graduate workers, and listen to their demands, especially their calls to increase graduate student worker wages. The board also calls for the undergraduate community to stand in solidarity with graduate employees.
Emma Lederer, a member of GAGE’s bargaining team and a second year doctoral student in the biology department, said she believes it is important for the university to increase the wages of graduate students.
“If we make a living wage, the constant stress of dealing with credit card debt, having to skip meals, and sleeping uneasily in unsafe housing conditions will have less of an effect on our health. We will be better people, workers, and teachers if we make a living wage,” Lederer wrote to The Hoya.
“I think it’s in the University’s best interest to compensate us fairly,” Lederer added.
GAGE and the university have been in talks over doctoral student workers’ compensation for months. In its first proposal March 27, GAGE demanded a $45,802 nine-month Ph.D. stipend and a $49,466 12-month Ph.D. stipend. The university responded with proposals of $34,659 and $37,857 for those respective categories, a significant distance from GAGE’s demands.
Members of GAGE have said the 4.4% raise during a period when the rate of inflation is 8% is effectively a pay cut.
GAGE’s most recent April 17 proposal was $40,850 and $44,526.50; administration countered with $35,167 and $38,411. No new offers were presented April 24, according to GAGE members.
Currently, doctoral candidates are compensated for their work with a nine-month or 12-month stipend of $33,813 and $36,934, respectively. Although these are the highest stipends for doctoral students in the region and Georgetown doctoral candidates receive full tuition, dental insurance and health coverage, the stipend still falls around 15% below the living wage in Washington, D.C.
A living wage in D.C. is $45,802 pre-taxes, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, which incorporates several factors including geographical specifics and a range of basic necessary expenditures. In fact, all 10 of Georgetown’s self-selected peer institutions, five of which are Ivy League institutions and none of which are in the D.C. region, offer stipends closer to the living wage in their locations.
In response to what they deem inadequate offers by Georgetown, GAGE organized an April 21 protest and an April 28 sit-in outside the president’s office in Healy Hall.
The Editorial Board believes that doctoral candidate employees bring immense value to the university; thus, the university has an obligation to compensate them with a fair living wage, especially given the high living costs in the District.
A livable wage is vital for graduate students, especially given that most students must find and rent their own living arrangements and cover basic expenses such as food and utilities. This is especially daunting in a city as expensive as Washington, D.C. Although graduate student workers can live on the H Street campus downtown, fees can cost at least $1,500 per month, a high expense for a full-time student.
A university spokesperson said the university is dedicated to their graduate students’ well-being.
“We value our graduate students and their contributions to the Georgetown community and are committed to ensuring they are supported during their academic formation at Georgetown,” the spokesperson wrote to The Hoya.
In addition, Georgetown’s wage proposal is not simply a matter of economics; it is also an issue of diversity and inclusion. Low stipend and hourly wage offers in comparison to peer institutions mean that graduate students may have to rely on family support or salaries from other jobs to cover basic expenses.
Lederer said increased compensation for workers will also create more opportunities for students from less privileged backgrounds.
“If we don’t offer students enough to pay rent in D.C., we will only attract the most financially well-off and privileged students,” Lederer wrote.
Joel Swanson (GRD ’24), a doctoral student in the chemistry program, said they have been forced to spend most of their paycheck on living expenses.
“You hate to say that it’s about the money, but when upwards of 60% of your paycheck is spent on rent and utilities, it doesn’t leave a lot for living,” Swanson wrote.
Lederer said because of their work schedules, it is difficult for graduate student workers to have second jobs to make up for living expenses.
“A Ph.D. stipend is meant to cover basic living expenses, not provide part-time employment. Right now I work about 40-80 hours a week, so I’d be interested in hearing when the university thinks I should fit a side job into my schedule,” Lederer wrote.
Georgetown’s doctoral student workers dedicate tireless hours to the pursuit of their degree and that of their own students. Their dedication to academics and to the Georgetown community cannot continue to go unrecognized.
Ensuring graduate students earn a living wage is the bare minimum Georgetown can do. Georgetown University’s administration must recognize the value graduate employees bring to campus by meeting GAGE’s demands for fair compensation.
The Hoya’s Editorial Board is composed of six students and is chaired by the opinion editors. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.