Mad Grads: Tech students join nationwide protest of tax reform bill

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Some of the crowd of about 75 people are seen marching in a protest of proposed tax legislation’s impact on graduate students at Michigan Technological University Wednesday.

HOUGHTON — Graduate students at Michigan Technological University and supporters marched Wednesday as part of a national protest of a House Republican tax bill that would significantly raise taxes on the students.

Under current practices, universities waive tuition for graduate students who receive small stipends in exchange for research and teaching classes. The plan the U.S. House of Representatives passed would treat the waived tuition as taxable income for students.

The protest at Tech was one of more than 60 going on at campuses across the country.

“We just want to send a message that we do not agree with the new plan because grad students are valuable sources for the community,” said Hossein Tavakoli, president of the Graduate Student Government at Tech. “I’m pretty sure many undergrads who have decided to continue their education to the graduate level would not do that, because they can’t afford it.”

Taxes for graduate students at Tech would increase about 262 percent on average under the House bill, Tavakoli said.

A group of about 75 people met at the Husky statue on Tech’s campus and walked to the Alumni House and back. Students carried placards with “My tuition waiver lets me …” which they filled in with individualized messages such as “fight pollution” and “push the boundaries of knowledge.”

Matthew Brege, a Ph.D. student in chemistry, said he couldn’t afford to be a graduate student without the tuition waiver.

“Tuition isn’t money that we ever actually see,” he said. “We are actually taxed on the stipends we get. It just seems unfair.”

Graduate student Will Lytle said administrators, faculty and staff need to work to help drive down costs. Students also need to be able to demonstrate their value to the community, he said.

“Effectively, this tax bill will discourage the best and brightest students who do not have a financial support network from participating in academic discourse,” he said. “So when you go home for the holidays and your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles ask you about your time here, don’t just complain about finances,” he said. “Tell them about the amazing research your friend does. Tell them about the personal growth that happens in the laboratory and in the classroom … Tell them about how you’ll be able to give back to the community with skills and knowledge you’ve acquired here.”