On Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, Chancellor Woodson announced that North Carolina State University has met its donation goal of $1.6 billion dollars in its current fundraising campaign. The Chancellor expressed his gratitude to donors for reaching this amount two years in advance of the campaign’s December 2021 goal and shared several projects that this funding would support, including new faculty positions and scholarships. These allocations are worthwhile, but Chancellor Woodson neglected one group crucial to — yet often invisible in — the university’s operations: graduate student workers.
NC State relies on many of their near 9,500 graduate students to complete a series of essential tasks, such as grading assignments, teaching courses, leading labs, conducting research and writing grants. Despite the necessity of this work, these graduate student workers receive minimal compensation. Stipends vary across programs, but graduate student workers often earn thousands less than Wake County’s living wage for a single adult, $25,684. This discrepancy puts graduate student workers in precarious positions. While discouraged in many programs, graduate student workers may seek work outside of the university to supplement their income. Many also neglect important medical care in favor of immediate costs. These hardships should not be standard for essential members of NC State’s community.
Admittedly, several projects that Chancellor Woodson discussed will improve the university. New faculty positions expand the diversity of scholarly work that the university provides, while new scholarships increase the diversity of the university’s student body. As beneficial as these contributions are, they cannot keep the university strong alone. Scholarship recipients would have many fewer classes available to them without graduate student instructors. Faculty, meanwhile, would struggle balancing classes and research without graduate assistantships. Graduate student workers fill these vital positions at a great personal expense that becomes more difficult to endure with an increasing cost of living. Current graduate student worker conditions are not sustainable for NC State.
Given the impressive pace with which NC State has met its donation goal, we urge Chancellor Woodson to act upon his words at a recent town hall for the College of Sciences about insufficient graduate student worker compensation. Work to improve the conditions of graduate student workers may begin with the elimination of graduate student fees, a change that would not only help stipends to approach a living wage but also keep graduate programs at NC State competitive with UNC Chapel Hill, which has recently decided to remove their graduate student fees.
NC State’s current graduate student support does not provide graduate student workers enough to continue fulfilling their essential duties. With the efficiency of its recent funding campaign, however, the university has the means to address this crisis.
-- Graduate Student Workers Union at NC State