As labor has been flexing its growing muscles over the past few years, one of the most active cohorts has been graduate students. This is relatively unsurprising since graduate students are a determined cross of highly educated and extremely low paid workers. And now Temple University Graduate Student Employees are striking.

The demographics of  University graduate students has evolved over the past few decades. Previously, Grad students were younger and still largely supported by wealthy parents. But more recently, grad students have taken a break before starting graduate work.

No one expects an undergrad student to work their way through college in 2023, the assumption is that some combination of loans, aid, some money they make from working, and their parent’s money will go towards their tuition and living expenses. The same was once true for grad students, with a bigger emphasis on loans and their own money from working.

But the ballooning loan crisis has made students and many colleges want to find solutions to keep them low. While at the same time all levels of college have gotten much, much, much more expensive.

With more students starting grad school later in life, more students who have children, with more teaching responsibilities in University systems which rely on them to fill gaps left by adjunct faculty, and with all other costs increasing post pandemic, graduate students are between a rock and a hard place. So they have started striking. The University of California recently settled a system-wide graduate student worker strike which left them “among the best supported in public higher education in the country.”

This is the climate in which graduate student workers at Temple University in Pennsylvania launched a strike, which started on Tuesday, January 31st. Their demands are similar to those the UC students had; higher wages, paid child care, and better health insurance.

Temple University is a relatively large public research institution with more than 40k undergrads. In spite of that there are only about 750 graduate student workers that the Temple University Graduate Student Association (TUGSA) represents. This likely would have stayed a relatively small news story, even if it had dragged out for longer than anyone wanted it to, had Temple University not taken a radical step.

Yesterday emails like the one below went out to students who were participating in the strike, informing them that the tuition fees, which TU usually covers for all graduate students as part of their work agreements, were being removed, and that they now owed the full amount.

But more than just the tuition, TU also cut all of the strikers health insurance.

This has taken what was a comparatively local strike story and turned TU into an internet villain. 

It is hard to imagine where things are going now, but it seems unlikely that these heavy handed tactics have benefited the university the way it might benefit a more unapologetically corporate entity like Starbucks. Neither side is de-escalating, so this might come down to a force of wills. It is unclear how TU’s actions are being received by all politicians, but certainly John Fetterman has already made his stance clear.

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