NYU, Protect Your Grad Students from the GOP!

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On behalf of all graduate students of NYU and across the country, we, the undersigned, stand with NYU's Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) in urging you to take concrete action against the GOP’s proposed tax overhaul and the devastating effects it would have on graduate students at NYU and across the country. The bill with the most oppressive and regressive proposal has already passed the House, and we fear that unless universities take decisive, concrete and visible steps to resist, it will pass the Senate as well. We were glad to receive your emails this week in response to the proposed tax bills, but we call on you and the NYU administration to make concrete commitments to the NYU graduate student community.

While the sections relating to graduate students are particularly egregious, we are very mindful of the fact that the House tax bill as well as the Senate tax bill are broadly consistent with a political program designed to generally redistribute wealth ever further upward by reducing the tax rate on corporate profits, lifting upper-echelon income tax thresholds, and eliminating taxes on inherited wealth. It promises almost nothing in return for middle and working-class Americans. It would also have clearly deleterious effects on the institutions and people involved in higher education.

The bill proposes to eliminate important tax credits for students who pay tuition, deductions for interest on student loans, and the ability for many donors to itemize their charitable gifts to scholarship funds. Most significantly, it would tax as income earned the tuition waivers that many graduate students receive as a standard, unconditional part of their funding package, or for their work as teaching assistants, graders, and researchers. As you know, graduate students never actually receive tuition waivers as income, and already suffer from increasingly precarious academic labor conditions. The skyrocketing cost of higher education--including at NYU, where the typical GSAS tuition is $42,368 a year--means that graduate students would be paying in some cases three and four times our normal tax rate. Even those receiving MacCracken fellowships would be unable to continue in their graduate studies, as paying taxes on tuition waivers as “income” would would be prohibitively costly for graduate student residents of New York.  The impact would be especially painful for graduate students with families or dependents. We will not be able to survive in this city under the new tax policy and NYU will lose the graduate student labor it requires to function as an educational and research institution.

Furthermore, we  would also like to draw attention to the fact that the existing taxation of graduate students at NYU is extremely obscure, with erroneous tax deductions, uneven and inconsistent delivery of tax forms, and a general lack of transparency, information, assistance, and advocacy around these issues. Because NYU does not report our stipends to the federal government, the administration can avoid paying taxes on them, while graduate students still have to pay taxes on their scholarships as income (despite not being formally recognized as workers). We therefore urge the administration to take seriously not only the threat posed by the GOP’s proposed tax overhaul, but also the existing issues NYU graduate students face with taxation.

Hence we urge the NYU administration to: 

--Promptly declare a commitment to ensure that our after-tax incomes are preserved at least at their current levels, without increasing other fees or increasing our reliance on TA/RA work.  
--Direct its considerable resources toward lobbying the Senate in opposition to the proposed tax overhaul.
--Moreover, we demand a broader re-evaluation of the current nomenclatures and taxation policy on NYU graduate students’ stipends.

We know that the university has the means and the power to meet these demands, and we insist that NYU declare its plans immediately and promptly. We are ready to fight against this attack on our own livelihood, as well as the general drain of wealth from working people to the rich that this tax reform and this Administration embodies.

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