Temple U. Philosophy Faculty Express Support for Striking Grad Students
Graduate students at Temple University have been on strike since the end of January, seeking an increase in wages, more affordable healthcare, longer parental and bereavement leave, and better working conditions.
Faculty in the Department of Philosophy at Temple have issued a statement in support of their graduate student workers. Dated February 10th, it states:
As members of the Department of Philosophy faculty, we support the demands of the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA) in their current contract negotiations with the University. We also strongly oppose the University’s revocation of striking graduate students’ tuition and health insurance benefits. Our graduate students rely on Temple health insurance to meet their basic healthcare needs. Directly threatening the health and welfare of members of our student body evidences a disregard for our community and undercuts the University’s claims to care about equity.
Graduate workers are a key part of our department and our university: without them, we are not able to complete our own research, mentor undergraduate students, or effectively teach students in our courses. For over a year, TUGSA has put forward proposals to ensure fair wages, working conditions, dependent health care coverage, and leave policies for graduate TAs and RAs. These proposals would improve the lives of graduate workers, as well as benefiting our department and enhancing the quality of undergraduate instruction.
We believe that the members of TUGSA, even while they are on strike, remain Temple graduate students, and we hope that the University will refrain from unnecessarily harsh or disrespectful treatment of them.
Eli Alshanetsky, Philip Atkins, Katie Brennan, César Cabezas, Lee-Ann Chae, Eugene Chislenko, Paul Crowe, Kristin Gjesdal, Espen Hammer, Brian Hutler, Miriam Solomon, and David Wolfsdorf
Department of Philosophy, Temple University
You can learn more about the strike here.
The Board of Directors of the American Association of Philosophy Teachers has also issued a statement of support for the striking Temple graduate students:
“The Board of Directors of the American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT) issued the following statement today in support of the graduate student workers of the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA) who are striking for equitable salaries, caregiver support, and better working conditions (https://www.tugsa.org/strike).
The Board of Directors of the AAPT stands in full solidarity with the graduate student
workers of TUGSA. The mission of the AAPT is to advocate for high-quality philosophy
teaching with a commitment to community building, inclusivity, and learner-centered
teaching (https://philosophyteachers.org/). Temple University values student learning
and names teaching first in its mission statement. The institution aims to create “a
collaborative community of outstanding faculty and staff who foster inclusion and
encourage the aspirations of Temple students” (https://www.temple.edu/about).
Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. Graduate student
teachers need a living wage, affordable health insurance (for themselves and their
dependents), and adequate parental leave to be effective instructors at Temple
Teaching and learning are at the core of any institution of higher learning. Practices that
threaten an institution’s instructional mission are counterproductive and cruel. The
AAPT Board would like to see Temple University negotiate with TUGSA in good faith,
without strong-arm tactics such as revoking strikers’ tuition and healthcare benefits.”Report
I intend this question sincerely as there may very well be something I’m missing… but why is it seen to be “strongarm tactics” for a university to revoke tuition for striking students? Striking is the withholding of labor on the understanding that compensation will also be withheld. Free tuition is a huge part of the compensation package for graduate TAs – it would be extremely difficult to recruit to them as purely paid posts. So why wouldn’t withholding the university’s in-kind contribution to a student’s tuition be just a normal part of how a strike works? (This is independent of whether a given strike is clearly in the right. Presumably if it is, a university would not be justified in withholding tuition – but it would also not be justified in withholding salary, or doing anything other than acceding to the strikers’ demands.)
Of course, requiring grad students to pay for that portion of their tuition accrued during their strike would be very difficult financially for them. But again, that’s how strikes work. Forfeiting your salary is normally very difficult financially for strikers, but that doesn’t make it strongarm tactics for an employer to withhold salary from them. That doing so makes life difficult for them is just part of the nature of a strike: inflicting pain on an employer at the cost of pain for the employees, in the hope of forcing a negotiation.
Looking around a little at the reporting on Temple in particular, the best reason I can come up with is that the revocation may be all-at-once, rather than, say, 1/30th of tuition charged per week on strike, assuming a 15-week semester. That does seem unreasonable, even if legally permissible. But I haven’t seen that point made by critics of Temple’s actions.Report
Revoking strikers’ tuition and healthcare is clearly an attempt to threaten and intimidate strikers. It is an attempt at threatening and intimidation because ours is a society where healthcare is tied to employment. Anyone striking now has to make the decision about whether to face the threat of inordinately high medical bills for themselves and perhaps their dependents. For many of the strikers, it amounts to an employer saying, “either stop striking or your child may not get the healthcare coverage he needs.”
By engaging the strikers using threats and intimidation, TU aims to coerce strikers into compliance, rather than reach a deal where they would have to make significant concessions to the graduate students.
Threats, intimidation, and coercion are I think paradigmatic examples of strong-arm tactics. It seems to me therefore perfectly reasonable for Alida to describe TU’s approach in this way.
You might object: ‘does your description commit you to saying that striking itself a strong-arm tactic?’
My reply (not speaking for Alida or anyone else affiliated with TUGSA): ‘First, TU’s response is disproportionate. Grad students striking does not hurt any individual member of the administration/university nearly as much as revoking healthcare hurts the strikers. Second, because TU is far far far wealthier and more powerful than the grad students, grad students necessarily will have to use radical tactics to get TU to listen to them. TU has many other, less radical, means of negotiation available to them given their relative power. Given both of these factors, you can call striking ‘strong arming,’ but there is a deep disanalogy between striking and revoking healthcare/tuition.’Report
If I may,
I think this doesn’t quite address the root of David Wallace’s question. Wallace did not discuss healthcare, but he did note that employers’ revoking standard bits of their employees’ compensation packages is a routine part of strikes and a big part of the risk incurred by striking employees. Tuition remission appears to be both a standard part and a large part of TU grad student employees’ compensation packages, so it is fairly predictable (although IMO unjust) that the administration would revoke tuition remission. While I believe this is unjust, and that the only just response would be for TU’s administration to heed the demands of those on strike, it isn’t surprising or out of the ordinary, hence not (obviously) a ‘strongarm’ tactic.
Revoking healthcare is less expected and plausibly counts as a strongarm tactic, in addition to being grossly unjust, but Wallace’s point wasn’t about healthcare.Report
Yes, exactly. You could say that withholding salary (which is routine in strike action) is a strongarm tactic, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree; what wasn’t and isn’t clear to me is why withholding salary is different from withholding tuition remission.
I intentionally didn’t mention healthcare, which I don’t think is analogous. (I don’t know what normally happens to healthcare in US industrial action, but I still have European sensitivities after 6 1/2 years in the US, and assume that everyone should have access to healthcare, irrespective of personal circumstances.)Report
You could say that withholding salary (which is routine in strike action) is a strongarm tactic
For what it’s worth, in Australia, employers are prohibited by law from paying employees while they are on strike. I’m not completely sure how non-traditional forms of compensation are dealt with, but wages, at the least, cannot be paid for any period when employees are not working because of industrial action.Report
I agree that revoking tuition is unjust, though not out of the ordinary (and therefore may not count as a strongarm tactic). If we all agree that revoking tuition is unjust, then I suppose I don’t really care to argue about whether it’s a strongarm tactic or not. It’s unjust, and that counts as sufficient reason to criticize and protest TU’s doing it, regardless of whether we call it ‘strongarm.’
However, David was responding to Alida, who characterized TU as using, “strong-arm tactics such as revoking strikers’ tuition and healthcare benefits.” I took Alida to be saying that the conjunction of these two revocations is a strong-arm tactic. And so I thought David missed the point by ignoring the revocation of healthcare (I should have made this explicit in my initial reply).
If we all agree that the revocation of healthcare is a strong arm tactic, and we all agree that the revocation of tuition is unjust, then I think we’re on the same page (:Report
I can see that I should have been clearer that I was talking quite specifically about tuition, not healthcare.
I suppose there is an analogy here to unjust wars vs unjust tactics in war. Withholding free tuition doesn’t strike me as any more unjust or illegitimate *as a tactic*than withholding salary. (Withholding healthcare does so strike me.) But of course if the employers’ cause is inherently unjust then they should concede to strikers’ demands rather than resisting them through even tactically legitimate responses.Report
As someone who’s participated in an academic strike in which healthcare benefits were withheld, I would argue withholding tuition is worse. In many strikes workers are made whole for whatever has been withheld once the strike concludes. The negotiation to end the strike generally includes the return of lost salary, healthcare premiums, etc. That was the case for the strike in my case. Furthermore, the strikers wouldn’t need to seek healthcare insurance elsewhere immediately, because you have 60 days to sign up for COBRA, and the benefits are retroactive.
The tuition would need to be paid immediately, on the other hand, or the students risk withdrawal from their courses and a delay in their progress towards their degree. I would hope the students would be made whole for their tuition bills, but they have to pay them first, and might not have the money or credit, or might be worried they wouldn’t be repaid and so be reluctant to pay. If they’re withdrawn from their classes, I wonder whether they can be added back retroactively after the deadline–that would be a violation of academic policy, but maybe that could be a condition for ending the strike. They worry that it’s not a possibility, though, and it’s always good to know you have another option in case the strike goes badly, as in the case of COBRA coverage for healthcare. Also, of course, there’s also the missed instructional time.Report
I think we should be clear that the nominal tuition that schools charge grad students is an entirely made up number that doesn’t reflect what grad students cost in terms of education or anything else. I’d also note that if Temple gets away with this it creates a perverse incentive for schools to jack up the made up number to astronomical amounts so they can have a bigger stick with which to beat any future grad students who might get a mistaken idea about whether the ol’ academic caste system regards them as fully human.Report
It’s not clear to me it’s ‘entirely made up’ – looking at Pitt’s figures for graduate tuition, they seem broadly consistent across courses that do and do not routinely work by tuition waivers, and fairly similar to undergraduate costs – which in turn matches the fact that the course requirements per semester are similar for UG and grad courses, and that faculty teaching stints do not distinguish the two types of course.
I do take the point that it is difficult to talk about the real value of a tuition waiver on a course that is not routinely taken by self-funded students. But equally, it would be disingenuous not to recognize that tuition waivers are a huge part of the economics of a graduate program. A university that abolished its grad program would have a big teaching gap to fill because of the removal of GTAs, but would also have a big chunk of faculty teaching time freed up – some immediately because of the explicit removal of grad seminars from teaching stint, some in the longer term because the refocus of the department would naturally lead to a different faculty stint level for new hires. So from the university’s point of view, what it is giving to graduate students in exchange for their GTA work is not just their salary, it is also a big chunk of expensive faculty time.
My uninformed guess is that if a university introduced genuinely made-up tuition levels that were not actually charged to anyone and were clearly out of line with ‘real’ tuition fees, they would be open to a legal challenge if they withheld on that basis. But I’ll defer to anyone actually informed on the law here.Report
It’s obviously absurd to charge grad students *more* in tuition than undergrads as Temple does given what each group of students uses in resources. But the ugly truth is pretty much all tuition numbers at four year universities are a sham as is supposed aid and neither bears any real relationship to the actual cost of education or anything else. See Josh Mitchell’s “The Debt Trap” or Slate’s well titled article on it if you don’t have time to read a book on it.Report
One thing to consider is that American university administrations tend to be very inconsistent about whether tuition waivers count as compensation. One reason is that compensation is something they legally have to bargain about in contract negotiations, and they don’t want to cede anything as bargainable in a contract negotiation. So they often insist that tuition waivers aren’t part of compensation, while unions insist they are.
On the other hand, university administrations obviously want to insist that the waivers are very valuable in order to emphasize how well-compensated their grad employees are when accused of under-compensating them during contract negotiations. (I was once told by an administrator that my compensation as a grad employees was in the six figures, once you included tuition, health insurance, etc.)
Then again, when the Trump administration considered taxing the tuition waivers as income. This would have resulted in grad employees owing fantastic portions of their salaries (sometimes in excess of 100%) in taxes. At this point, most university administrations insisted that tuition waivers were not compensation and that treating them as such would destroy the graduate education system in this country.
The (very limited) point being that university administrations regularly waffle on this question in ways that make it exceedingly difficult to know in advance what they think they are allowed to do with regard to tuition waivers and whether they are within their rights to do so.Report
That’s very interesting – thank you.Report
Wait, I thought tuition waivers were already taxable. (When over $5200/year.)Report