Without graduate student workers, colleges and universities could not operate. Nevertheless, they are paid very little and receive no paid sick leave. As bad as their situation is, it’s about to get even worse as a result of the pandemic (“Universities to Grad Students: Drop Dead,” The Nation, May 27). At UC Santa Cruz, for example, 54 have been fired from their teaching assistantships.
Administrators claim that grad students function essentially as interns, meaning they are getting on-the-job experience toward their doctoral degrees while receiving compensation. But the truth is that their institutions are the ones benefiting far more. In this regard, universities and colleges are acting more like businesses than educational institutions.
When I was an undergraduate at UPenn in the 1950s, all of my discussion groups were taught by grad students, and all of my tests and papers were graded by them as well. Perhaps things have changed a bit, but I doubt it. Professors have long viewed grad students as cheap labor to be exploited. I place the blame on administrators whose primary objective is to keep costs down. The strikes and sick-outs by grad students will likely result in only slight changes.
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