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IU graduate students march to President McRobbie’s office in opposition of tax plan


More than 100 grad students from all areas of study march from Woodburn Hall to Bryan Hall to deliver a petition to President Michael McRobbie to publicly oppose a House of Representatives bill taxing graduate students' tuition waivers. The GOP-backed bill would repeal tax exemptions for students receiving tuition waivers and would affect more than 2,100 IU students. Steven Lin Buy Photos

IU graduate students flooded the three stories of staircases leading up to President Michael McRobbie’s office in Bryan Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

“Hey hey, ho ho. This heinous bill has got to go,” they chanted as they marched there from the Woodburn Hall clock tower.

When McRobbie's chief of staff stepped out, students walked up one by one up to relay their stories, and the crowd went silent.

The demonstration was part of a national walk-out Wednesday afternoon. The walk-out voiced student concerns about a new tax plan introduced by the House of Representatives earlier this month that would tax graduate students for tuition waivers.

Walk-outs took place across 32 states at 57 campuses, including Michigan State University, University of Kentucky, Harvard University and Caltech, according to the Action Network, an online organizing platform.

IU graduate student Abby Ang stood on the stone fence surrounding Woodburn Hall clock tower with a megaphone in hand before the march.

“When education is under attack,” she started.

“We fight back,” a crowd, stretching from the tower to Ballantine Hall, roared back. 

Ang, a graduate student and associate instructor in the IU Department of English, said $14,500 of her tuition is waived each year. If the waiver is taxed, her taxes would jump by $2,000. For some, she said the tax spike would be by 400 percent.

With a salary of only $13,000, she said she, like many others, would have to drop out of graduate school.

Before the demonstration began, Ang circled the clock tower with a clipboard in hand. The clipboard held a petition asking McRobbie and Indiana senators Todd Young and Joe Donnelly to oppose any tax bill including the graduate student tax.

The petition was signed online by over 500 people, but Ang said she was doubtful Young and Donnelly would vote against the plan.

IU graduate student Mary Bowden said the tax would double her taxable income. While she only sees $15,000 in her bank account, she would be taxed for $30,000.

“We’re paying tax on an income we never see,” she said. “We shouldn’t make it even more difficult for people to get an education.”

Bowden held a sign that read, “I’d rather be dissertating.” Beside her, two girls clutched posters with the words, “I’d rather be grading” and “I’d rather be transplanting.”

She pointed at another sign that read, “Our teaching conditions are your learning conditions.”

She said IU relies on graduate students to teach classes and conduct research.

“It’s just like the sign says,” she said. “If we don’t get an education, the rest of the University can’t either.”

IU graduate student Anna Cabe said the plan would tax graduate students out of the universities that need them.

The result would be higher class sizes, a drop in research and less value placed on higher education, she said.

“Nothing would get done if we were taxed out,” she said. “There would be no learning or progress. Everything that makes this a place of learning would be gone.”

Cabe said the tax would also reduce IU’s international reputation as a place of learning and research.

In an address to the University Faculty Council, McRobbie voiced similar concerns that the plan would make it more difficult for IU to attract students to its graduate programs.

He told the council they must oppose any plans that would price students out of higher education or contradict the University’s core missions of education and research.

"The education we provide our best and brightest students is one of the most powerful contributions our country’s colleges and universities can make to improving our communities and our society at large," McRobbie said. "IU will not waver in its commitment to educating engaged citizens who will shape the future of our state, nation and world."

Ang said she is thankful for McRobbie’s statement of support but was concerned because it came two weeks after the plan was introduced and other university presidents, including Vanderbilt President Nicholas Zeppos, Rice University President David Leebron and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, voiced opposition to the tax.

She said she also wants IU to discuss a long-term strategy to lobby against the plan and to ensure graduate students would be able to stay in school by lowering tuition or helping cover taxes.

When she walks up to McRobbie’s doorstep, she said she has a message to send to him and to politicians.

“When we march up to his doorstep, we want to show him that we are real people, that we are a force to be reckoned with, that we will hold people accountable,” she said. “We need to send a message to politicians that higher education is important. We are going to fight for this.”

A previous version of this article said the amount of taxes Ang would have to pay would increase by $200 when the correct number is $2,000. It also stated President McRobbie was in the office, when his chief of staff, Karen Adams, was there. The IDS regrets this error. 

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