Graduate students stage walkouts to protest GOP tax plan

Bill would end tax cut that helps students

Grad students walk out over tax plan

(CNN) - At Duke University, the students marched with chants of "No tax cuts for corporations, money for jobs and education."

At the University of Southern California, they held signs with sayings like "Graduate students research cures for cancer. Invest in the future. Stop the Tax Reform Bill."

Scenes like these played out across the US on Wednesday, as hundreds of graduate students walked out in protest of the House Republican tax plan. One organizer of the nationwide event, Hannah Rasmussen, told CNN they estimate approximately 63 schools in 33 states participated in the demonstrations.

Under current tax laws, many doctoral and graduate students receive tuition waivers that are not counted as taxable income as long as the student does research or teaches for the university. However, the House bill passed earlier this month ends this tax break. About 145,000 graduate students benefited from a waiver in 2012, the most recent data available.

Marena Lin, a member of the Harvard Graduate Students Union, was one of the organizers of a walkout and phone drive at Harvard University opposing the tax plan.

"We were one of a network of graduate student unions across the country that have been organizing events over the past few weeks as part of a nationwide movement to address the highly problematic provisions of the GOP tax plan," Lin told CNN.

As a fifth-year doctoral student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Lin receives a stipend of about $30,000. She said her taxes stand to potentially triple if the graduate tax deduction is eliminated.

"It means a take-home pay of close to $20,000 for the majority of graduate students," she said. "This is not a living wage in the Boston area. And it would be an impossible wage for anyone with health care needs or dependents."

"I know it substantially weakens the incentive for an underrepresented low-income minority scientist like me to choose to join academia -- where unexpected life-saving discoveries are possible because they are not necessarily predicated on profit -- when private industry can ensure the reliable health benefits and compensation that come with an employment contract," Lin added.

Students aren't the only ones in academia who are have voiced issues with the pending legislation. In early November, the American Council on Education penned a letter on behalf of close to 50 higher-education organizations to express their concerns about the House bill.

"This legislation, taken in its entirety, would discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private, two-year and four-year colleges and universities," ACE President Ted Mitchell wrote.

The Senate version of the tax bill, which is expected to go to a vote on Thursday or Friday, keeps the tax exemption on tuition waivers and does not include many of the provisions in the House version that most directly impact students.

However, both versions of the plan stand to tax endowments at about 70 universities with endowments of more than $250,000 per student, according to Bloomberg.


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