By TONIA HILL
Last week, University of Chicago (U. of C.) graduate students rallied together to urge members of Congress to oppose the Republican tax reform bill.
If the bill becomes law, it will categorize tuition waivers as taxable income. Graduate students receive tuition waivers from their institutions in exchange for teaching or conducting research.
“The House bill in its current form would have a substantial negative impact on livelihoods it threatens to increase our tax burden by almost two hundred percent in some cases,” said Chaz Lee, a graduate student and a member of Graduate Students United (GSU). “We would be paying tax[es] on an income that is substantially larger than what we receive.”
GSU is the graduate worker labor union at U. of C.
GSU coordinated an effort, last week, for graduate students to reach out to members of Congress, “to keep them informed about the negative repercussions that this bill would have on graduate students’ lives and also on our institutions,” Lee said.
Students made calls to members of Congress and created personalized messages on signs in four locations on campus and posted photos with the posters on social media to spread the word.
U. of C. has also raised concerns about the Republican Tax bill, known as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” that passed in the U. S. House of Representatives this month. The final vote was 227-205, 13 Republicans voted against the plan. It received no “yes” votes from Democrats.
David Nirenberg, executive vice provost at U. of C., sent an email to graduate students and faculty outlining the school’s concerns on the issue last week.
“The university strongly opposes new taxes that target students, or other changes that could impair our ability to make essential investments in our students’ education,” Nirenberg wrote. “The university is working directly with key lawmakers and collaborating with numerous other institutions and associations in opposing these changes, and in vigorously advocating for our students and our community education.”
The House version of the bill if it becomes law would also eliminate the tax deduction for student loan interest payments, and tax the value of tuition benefits currently offered by the universities to faculty and staff and their spouses and children.
The U.S. Senate is now considering its version of the Tax bill. The Senate bill like the House bill, would apply a 1.4 percent excise tax to private college endowments “which could seriously affect the university’s budget,” Nirenberg said in a written statement.
The Senate bill does not touch graduate student waivers. It is estimated that nearly 145,000 graduate students across the nation receive a tuition reduction like this, according to the American Council on Education.
“We are concerned about not just its impact on the lives of individual graduate students but also on the ability of the university to carry out its teaching and research mission,” Lee said.
GSU has been in contact with other graduate students at other institutions who are also speaking out. Petitions from organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers have also circulated this month in opposition to the Republican tax bill.
A vote on the Senate version of the bill is expected to happen this week.
“Our response is not only working to prevent the passage of the bill in Congress but also making sure no matter what the changes are to tax law that our institutions are still capable of supporting basic teaching and research functions,” Lee said.