Members of the Graduate Workers Coalition announced plans to picket from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday in front of Bryan Hall as part of the fee strike, according to a coalition press release. More than 750 graduate workers have committed to withhold their spring semester fees from the university, according to the press release.
Thursday will be the first day of the fee strike because Wednesday is the final day graduate students can submit fee payments to the university before they are considered late. These mandatory fees go toward activities, technology, student health, transportation, repair and rehabilitation, plus department-specific fees. However, this year the fees are not itemized, and students do not know where the money is being used.
Cole Nelson, organizer for the Graduate Workers Coalition, said graduate workers want to end mandatory and international student fees. He said their other demands include increasing stipends to the standard of living in Bloomington, a 2% or fixed-to-inflation annual raise and protections during COVID-19 like vaccine priority and the ability to choose if their classes are in person.
According to the coalition’s website, the graduate workers are tired of low wages and having to pay fees in order to work as graduate students at IU. The coalition says these fees negatively affect graduate recruitment and add stress and exhaustion.
The coalition plans to picket in front of Bryan Hall, which is where Provost Lauren Robel’s office is located. Nelson said this location was chosen to ensure the picket line is visible to the administrators with the power to make financial changes in the university.
As of March 6, more than 100 students have RSVP’d for the picket line online, Nelson said. Picket line participants must sign-in, remain socially distanced and masked.
On Feb. 19, David Daleke, vice provost of graduate education, sent a l4-page letter written by Robel to the graduate workers, the faculty who had drafted a letter of support and all chair department heads in separate communications, Nelson said.
Robel’s letter addresses university support for Ph.D Student Academic Appointees, mandatory fees and international fees before addressing the specific claims made by the Graduate Workers Coalition. The letter discusses the coalition's claims about living wages, if SSAs should be exempt from mandatory and international fees and if IU has ignored graduate funding since the release of the College of Arts and Sciences Task Force on Graduate Student Funding report.
Nelson said Robel came to many conclusions and was unwilling to engage in discussion with the graduate workers over ending the fees.
“She comes to a number of conclusions, one being that ‘end the fees’ is not a necessary demand,” Nelson said. “Another being that graduate workers are, in fact, making a living wage, which is a deeply contestable argument.”
Nelson said the coalition decided if IU does not come to a conclusion through negotiation about mandatory fees by Wednesday, it wanted to take collective action to bring attention to their demands.
“Within the past two weeks or so, we decided that it's necessary to take things to the next level and do some sort of collective action to mark the official start of the fee strike,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the coalition would rather negotiate with the IU administration about fees instead of going on strike. Because of the IU administration’s lack of response to their demands, he said the students have no choice.
“We are now forced into the position of engaging a fee strike and conducting a picket to continue demonstrating these demands,” Nelson said.
Peter Cho, an IU doctoral student and coalition member, said the goals of the picket are to show the IU administration how serious the students are about their demands and how tired they are of not receiving a meaningful response from the administration.
“Our working conditions are not OK, and they need to get better,” Cho said.
Anushka Sen, a fifth-year graduate studies student participating in the picket line, said she and her friends were disappointed by the provost’s letter and the statement in the letter that they were students first and foremost rather than workers. Because graduate workers often teach more than the required time of 20 hours and teach classes that prepare freshmen and sophomores for higher level courses, she said the statement felt devaluing.
Chelsea Brinda, a doctoral student and member of the coalition, said Robel’s letter makes it clear those separate from graduate workers’ experiences do not know the situation many graduate workers are in and what needs to be fixed. She said a conversation needs to happen between graduate workers and people who are separate from their experiences.
“I really just don't think that they understand that, especially with these fees we have to pay back, how much it is,” Brinda said.
Many of the graduate workers, including Brinda, said they are excited about the upcoming picket line.
“Show that we are here, we're angry, we're agitated and that we really need some kind of change,” Brinda said.