How Harvard Fights Unions: By Conceding the Union’s Most Basic Claims

by Corey Robin on October 14, 2015

Harvard’s grad students have launched a union campaign, and Harvard’s administration has launched its response. Internal documents from the administration to the faculty, which were leaked to me, reveal some fascinating developments in these increasingly common anti-union drives of elite Ivy League universities.

First, university administrations have grown highly sensitized to any perception that they or their faculty are using intimidation and coercion to bust unions of academic workers. So sensitized that they’ve drafted a set of four rules, replete with a handy acronym, just in case the faculty can’t remember to keep things cool.

The basic rule is: No “TIPS”

No Threats


No Interrogation


No Promises


No Surveillance



You have to appreciate the hilarity. Like most elite faculty, Harvard’s professor probably oppose a union of graduate students because they think it will sully the intellectual virtues of America’s most prestigious university. Yet here they are being instructed by that most prestigious university to oppose that union with the help of slogans and acronyms.

And believe or not: that’s the good news. The use of fear and favor can be fatal to a union drive, and it’s good that at least some portion of the faculty are being told not to go there. (Whether that message sticks once the drive really gets going is another matter.) What’s more, it shows how conscious Harvard’s administrators—really, lawyers (and probably not even in-house lawyers; there are firms that specialize in this stuff)—are that the law and the courts may not be on their side on this issue.

Second, and even more interesting , is how, having explained to the world’s leading luminaries of light and reason that they should not terrorize the workers and students with whom they work (and don’t assume these luminaries don’t need that explained to them), the administration proceeds to instruct the faculty in what they should do.

Do Share the University’s Record on Stipends and Benefits, where known. Provide information to students about the array of benefits that they presently receive, including the University’s record of steady improvement over time—without a union.

Do Explain the Disadvantages of Union Membership. There are economic costs to joining a union, including the likelihood that they will be required to pay annual dues. There are also non-economic costs, including the intrusion of a third party into an academic relationship, adding a new political entity (the UAW) with its own agenda to existing relations.

Do Explain the Collective Bargaining Process. The process of collective bargaining requires parties to meet at reasonable times and places to discuss wages, hours, and working conditions. However, the law does not dictate what must go into a contract. Thus, the union cannot guarantee any specific outcome, such as an improvement in stipend or other benefits, as these matters would become subject to collective bargaining. If there is a recognized union of graduate students, the University would bargain in good faith, but the University cannot be forced to accept union demands. The University would also be allowed to propose its own changes to the status quo in negotiations. You can also mention that negotiations for a first contract usually take a year or longer during which time there could not be any unilateral changes to the status quo, including changes in compensation.

Do Explain the Election Process. In order for a union to file a petition for an election with the NLRB, it must obtain authorization cards from at least 30 percent of the employees in an appropriate unit. Students have the right to decide whether or not to sign a union authorization card, and even if they do sign a card and an election is later held, they don’t have to vote in favor of the union. If there is an election, it would be conducted by the NLRB and would be a secret ballot election. The election is decided by a majority of votes cast, just like a political election. Also, because the majority of first and second year students do not teach or serve as research assistants, they may not be considered eligible members of a graduate student union.

Do Correct Inaccurate or Misleading Union Statements and Campaign Materials. Inform students of inaccuracies and provide the correct information, if known. Remind students that the union may make promises, but it cannot guarantee anything. • Do Provide Information about the Union’s Record. Inform students about the union’s local, regional, and national track record representing graduate students, if you are aware of it.


What’s fascinating about this to-do list is just how much, without realizing it, Harvard’s administration has conceded the union’s case. In two ways: By having the faculty talk to grad workers about issues like pay and benefits, Harvard’s administration is conceding that grad workers think like other workers. They care about things like pay and benefits.

But Harvard is also conceding something about the faculty. The premise of grad union drives is that grad students are workers and the administration is management. Where the faculty stand in all that is usually a matter of some dispute. Most grad unions, for understandable reasons, try to reassure the faculty that they don’t view them as management, but as potential allies. Most administrations, for understandable reasons, try to deny that the faculty are management. Most faculty haven’t a clue what they are.

But what is Harvard doing here but treating the faculty as if they are management, as if they are the enforcers of the administration’s policies. In the same way that the moguls of General Motors or Hyatt or Amazon instruct their front-line managers in how to talk to workers—often using the same kind of boilerplate that Harvard is using here—so is Harvard training its managers in how to talk to the workers there.

Like most scholars, Harvard’s faculty are used to thinking of themselves as independent minds. They’ve engaged in intense, often solitary, study of their chosen fields for decades. They’ve learned to take nothing on faith; they examine the evidence and come to their own opinions.

Yet here is Harvard senior management providing middle management with a Cliff Notes guide to American labor law, and expecting leading scholars of Shakespeare, colonial America, urban poverty, and the EU to repeat its talking points to their students. If that doesn’t convince the Harvard faculty that, from the university’s perspective, they really are management, no amount of evidence and reason will.

 

{ 100 comments }

1

mdc 10.14.15 at 9:02 pm

Any polling data on what percentage of faculty support grad student unionization? It can’t be zero, and presumably the authors of this memo know that it isn’t zero. Is it permissible under labor law to order some employees to publicly oppose an organization drive?

2

adam 10.14.15 at 9:46 pm

I don’t know if there are specific rules in academia, but certainly in the vast majority of private workplaces, management can instruct other managerial staff to publicly oppose the union.

3

LFC 10.14.15 at 9:58 pm

Corey implies that there is something something ironic, or humorous, about professors at an ‘elite’ university being given talking points and ‘Cliff notes’ on U.S. labor law. But why should one assume that a physicist, mathematician, historian of Latin America, scholar of the history of political thought, etc etc etc knows the first thing about labor law and collective bargaining? Actually some of them may, but the admin and its lawyers have to err on the side of assuming they don’t. Of course the administration is going to give them ‘Cliff notes’ and thereby treat them for these purposes as ‘management’. What else would one expect the administration to do, given its predictable opposition to grad student unionization? Obvs. the admin can’t force any faculty member to repeat these Cliff notes; presumably it’s saying “here are the Cliff notes for those of you who want to use them, and we think you shd use them if/when the subject comes up.”

(On a side point: it’s wrong, imo, to call Harvard, as the post does, the U.S.’s “most prestigious university.” There is no effective difference in prestige between Harvard and the ten or fifteen other institutions one would think of as being at the top of some (notional) prestige hierarchy of research universities. Princeton regularly (i.e., not all the time but quite often) outranks Harvard in the USNews rankings, and while those rankings are probably of minimal substantive value they can be taken, I think, as a fairly reliable indicator of prestige.)

4

hix 10.14.15 at 11:13 pm

The text is does not at all read like a pure technical guide to labour law. More like a prophaganda / marketing guideline handled down in a for profit company. Its not even formulated like a hierarchical order in public administration. All in all rather offensiv and definitly threating academics like middle managers in a private marketing obsessed for pofit. But then i suppose that might be a rather accurate description of Harvard – a status brand, the Apple of universities.

5

LFC 10.15.15 at 12:07 am

Here is some of what prefaces the “guidelines” for faculty in one of the documents Corey links:
GSAS has prepared the following guide for faculty and staff to help inform interactions with students who may be involved with or have questions about the union and Harvard’s response. Please be sure to review these important guidelines carefully…

The administration is opposed to graduate student unionization — an issue it won’t have to face unless the NLRB reverses a 2004 ruling on these matters (according to the Meng letter Corey links). So the admin is giving faculty some talking points, after telling them what they can’t do at some length (e.g., threaten, give false info, etc.) Is this offensive? In a way, I suppose, but it’s also fairly toothless. What if a faculty member decides to completely ignore these “guidelines” and talking pts and comes out in support of grad student unionization or just refuses to engage w anyone in any conversations about the issue? Nothing, I wd think. Faculty members are generally free to have political convictions and act on them, which is what that wd amt to.

Yes, these talking pts treat faculty as management. Except none of the ‘managers’ in this case actually has to pay the slightest damn bit of attention to these ‘guidelines’ (except the for “do-not” ones) unless they feel like it. No one can force a professor in the privacy of her office to give a grad student an anti-union speech, or to say anything about the issue one way or another.

6

LFC 10.15.15 at 12:10 am

correction:
“except for the ‘do-not’ ones”

7

ZM 10.15.15 at 12:20 am

“You have to appreciate the hilarity. Like most elite faculty, Harvard’s professor probably oppose a union of graduate students because they think it will sully the intellectual virtues of America’s most prestigious university. Yet here they are being instructed by that most prestigious university to oppose that union with the help of slogans and acronyms.”

If the Harvard grad students decide to distribute their own cliff notes they could use the example of student unions at Universities in Australia.

The presidents of the student union and graduate student association have been asked to sit on the sustainability executive council at uni, so you can see even elite universities in Australia respect student unions. The sustainability executive is not a radical green group, and is headed by the university’s Chief Financial Officer, so you can see how student unions work with the university administrations in Australia.

We just have student unions at university level here I think, although I remember something funny from when I was at primary school when some high school students went on strike to protest about the teachers at the high school going on strike too much.

There was controversy during the Liberal Howard government about compulsory membership fees being charged to all students for student unions, and the Howard government made the formerly compulsory fees voluntary. This caused a shortfall in fees which wasn’t sustainable as student union fees go to a lot of amenities like student libraries, sports and so on. So then the next Labor government decided student union fees would be compulsory again but now could be paid by government loans and paid off when you graduate and are earning over a certain income level, like government loans for university course fees.

Student unions are not just about money and conditions, they are involved in running student amenities like sports and arts and entertainment, student groups and volunteering, provide advocacy and legal advice, and as well as having representatives for these areas they are involved in, they have representatives for women, indigenous students, international students, the environment, disability etc

8

js. 10.15.15 at 3:06 am

@LFC: “TIPS” is pretty infantilizing, no? If I were faculty at Harvard (and I very much am not), I would consider it infantilizing. The tone of the rest of it doesn’t strike me as much better, but I guess it’s not quite as bad.

9

Val 10.15.15 at 3:52 am

ZM @ 7, I think you are confusing two different things. There are the student union and the graduate students’ association as you mention, but when graduate students work as teaching associates they are employed as contract staff by the university. It’s an industry matter and there are employment conditions which the union is involved in negotiating. The relevant union here is the NTEU (I don’t know if there are any others).

I support what I think is your more general point, that unionism is more normal in Australian universities. I can’t imagine management doing anything like that here (at least in the public universities, I don’t know about private ones). Apart from that however, I think many of the issues around teaching associates sound similar here and in the US. I’m currently employed at present so I don’t want to say too much, but there are particular widespread concerns, especially that the nominal time for which we get paid does not cover the actual time we put in. There’s a planned action of some kind here soon, I can maybe provide more information about that later. At present I really have to do some assessment!

Another issue is that while I can’t imagine tenured staff here being put in the kind of situation that Corey writes about above, there is a complex quasi-management, but more significantly, ‘patron’ relationship between teaching associates and the tenured academic staff who coordinate the courses we teach in. I’ll leave it at that for the time being I think but the whole situation does merit much further discussion, preferably by other people who know about the issues but aren’t directly involved in them, if that’s possible.

10

ZM 10.15.15 at 4:40 am

Val,

I see, so what the Harvard graduate students want to have a union for is for an advocacy body to act as the National Tertiary Education Union does in Australia. If that is the case, it seems pretty unfair that Graduate Students who are teaching are excluded from the Tertiary staff unions in America, if they are allowed to be part of the NTEU in Australia.

I think you are right about similar difficulties with casual contracts and needing to work more hours than the contracts are for and so on in Australia.

11

SMI 10.15.15 at 8:55 am

@ZM: I’m pretty sure that there is no equivalent of the NTEU in the US – that is, an industrial union that seeks to organise all university employees (teaching, research, professional, and general staff).

The NTEU does have some difficulty in organising casual academic staff (such as most postgrads who do teaching work), but is at least able to engage in more-or-less effective enterprise bargaining with flow-on effects for casual pay rates.

12

PKO 10.15.15 at 9:38 am

@LFC
Your comments on relative prestige were interesting (in passing). Having taking a temporary interest in such things as my daughter tackles university entry in the UK, we have been studying league tables (though not too seriously). Taking those presented by the Times Educational Supplement as a benchmark, Harvard currently ranks 6th behind Caltech, Stanford, and MIT (with Oxford and Cambridge in the UK coming in 2nd and 4th respectively).

However, in the UK popular imagination I am in little doubt that Harvard would win the day, and by some measure, as the most prestigious US institution. Quite why is an interesting question.

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2016/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25

13

Andrew Fisher 10.15.15 at 10:54 am

If the tenured staff aren’t managing the teaching assistants, who is?

14

LFC 10.15.15 at 12:45 pm

js.
@LFC: “TIPS” is pretty infantilizing, no?

Yes, I guess it is.

15

Just Another Commenter 10.15.15 at 2:17 pm

Why is the mnemonic infantilizing? Medical students rely on similar tools routinely to learn things from diagnostic procedures to how to have certain kinds of discussions with patients. When you have to remember something in the middle of a discussion, an mnemonic often helps, even if you’re a fancy professor.

16

Layman 10.15.15 at 4:06 pm

LFC:

Corey implies that there is something something ironic, or humorous, about professors at an ‘elite’ university being given talking points and ‘Cliff notes’ on U.S. labor law.

I didn’t take this as CR’s point. I thought his point was the extent to which this approach demonstrates that Harvard views the faculty as managers, and the grad students as their employees. It skewers the fiction that the grad students are just scholars, and the faculty are just their teachers, and having the grad students teach is just part of the effort to educate them.

17

LFC 10.15.15 at 4:19 pm

Layman @15
I agree that was CR’s main pt, but I thought there was the other pt as well. (YMMV.)

18

Meredith 10.16.15 at 3:51 am

A very old tension between a “professional” notion of “faculty-run” and the state’s licensing/authorizing “the president and board of trustees,” who always hold the ultimate power — that’s what I see here. In the best of times, it really has been a delicate and difficult but productive balancing act. In the worst of times, it’s, well, this.

I’d like to know more about how and when a distinction between “the professions” and “the trades” developed (out of guilds, no doubt). Probably in the late 18th/early 19th century? (Might the physician be a place to start? Once pretty much a trade, now of course a profession.)

19

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 5:03 am

Just to be clear:

1. Harvard typically gives its PhD students full tuition, which is worth about $60,000 a year.

2. Harvard also pays its PhD students a graduate assistant stipend. These vary by department, but seem to range from about $20,000 on the low end to as high as $35,000 for some of the hard sciences.

This means a typical full time Harvard PhD student with a graduate assistantship is actually receiving between $80,000 and $95,000 worth of pay and benefits a year.

So let me ask you this, Mr. Robin: How exactly is that extraordinarily generous level of compensation unfair, unjust, and in need of union protection? To suggest that it is in light of the fact that most Americans make less than half that level is borderline insanity.

20

dax 10.16.15 at 7:19 am

” In the same way that the moguls of General Motors or Hyatt or Amazon instruct their front-line managers in how to talk to workers”

Probably better to replace “front-line” with “lower-level” management, because that seems to be how the Harvard Administration thinks about its faculty.

21

Zamfir 10.16.15 at 8:27 am

Harvard typically gives its PhD students full tuition, which is worth about $60,000 a year.
As is clearly shown by all the assistents who refrain from doing a PhD, and therefore get 80,000 dollar a year in cash.

22

HoosierPoli 10.16.15 at 8:52 am

Alternatively, it might make faculty begin to think that actually they have much more common cause with the grad students than with the administration.

23

Earwig 10.16.15 at 12:28 pm

With you.

But: “They’ve learned to take nothing on faith; they examine the evidence and come to their own opinions.”

Ha hahaha haha!

Is this just flattery, or do you really believe that?

24

Val 10.16.15 at 12:28 pm

Zamfir @ 21
Thank you, I was hoping someone would deal with that strange little frolic

I’m not at Harvard and I’m only part time, but even if my university only paid me $20,000 per year not to a PhD, still sounds quite tempting … I could put it to them, think how much you’ll save by not having to give me all that expensive tuition. What a bargain

25

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 2:56 pm

21 – Zamfir –

That’s a complete non-sequitur of an argument. It’s well documented that a Harvard degree dramatically increases the holder’s lifetime earnings. It’s actually one of a very small group of schools that consistently does so. Therefore free tuition at Harvard is potentially work *more* than $60,000 a year, not less.

In any case, the group you’ve chosen to sympathize with here is arguably the single most over-privileged, entitled, and socially secure slice of the American population: Harvard grads who have a free ride to their PhD and a stipend on top of it that exceeds the income of many working families. That you would champion their cause as a case of social justice isn’t just absurd – it’s obscene.

26

magari 10.16.15 at 3:41 pm

Workers should be able to collectively bargain with their employer. That’s all the justification workers at any job, no matter how well treated, need.

27

Martin Keegan 10.16.15 at 4:05 pm

“Yet here is Harvard senior management providing middle management with a Cliff Notes guide to American labor law, and expecting leading scholars of Shakespeare, colonial America, urban poverty, and the EU to repeat its talking points to their students. “

Well, scholars of the EU tend to be pretty good at repeating someone else’s talking points.

28

bjssp 10.16.15 at 4:14 pm

What’s so bizarre is that for some of these schools–and Harvard is certainly among them–a lot of the issues surrounding cost almost certainly can’t hurt their overall financial position.

Are the financial demands so unreasonable? Are the other demands unreasonable?

Take this for what it’s worth, which might not be all that much, since I am an outsider to the nth degree in this situation, but it seems like so many organizations approach matters like this with an overly aggressive, antagonistic mindset. Compare that to, say, Costco, which is supposedly not insanely found of unions* but doesn’t fight them like some companies might. I get all demands can’t be met, but if you approach all situations as if giving an inch will kill you, why would anyone expect a good outcome?

*This may be a line, but one of the higher ups said they don’t like them because they feel they have a good relationship with their workers and don’t like another party coming between them and their workers. (Something like that.)

29

Zamfir 10.16.15 at 4:17 pm

Work experience at a prestigious place is worth a lot. It’s not pay, and people onky pretend it is pay for dodgy reasons.

If this only happened at Harvard, you might have a point. But as Val shows, it’s common practice. Grad students are in many places entry-level employees with the expectations and responsibilites of such a position, but the institution tries to avoid their part of that deal.

Now, Robin has found a nice example of the hypocrisy involved. At Harvard. Should it be ignored because everyone at Harvard will become a rich banker and doesn’t need symphaty? Fuck that. Presitigious institutions set the norms that are followed widely.

30

bjssp 10.16.15 at 4:22 pm

@Interlocutor:

Those are some interesting points. But then, (a) maybe it’s more about organization for Harvard students and (b) the generous bounty Harvard students get might not be repeated at other schools.

Or is it? I said below I am an outsider to this world, and I was under the impression that graduate students didn’t always get a free ride.

31

mds 10.16.15 at 4:28 pm

Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences charges tuition of $41,832 a year for the first two years. For the third and fourth years, tuition is $10,876. After the fourth year, there is a “facilities fee” of $2,768. That’s a pretty massive cut in “total compensation” for more advanced graduate teaching and research assistants; it makes you wonder how they can keep up with the rent. Good thing they’ll make it all back immediately with a doctorate from Harvard, though. There’s a reason why you don’t see any Harvard PhDs working as adjuncts or postdocs.

Interlocutor’s helpful “cost + benefits” formulation does offer a possible compromise solution, however. Harvard can simply increase its starting GSAS tuition to $75,000 a year, and all the first- and second-year teaching assistants can rejoice in their enormously increased standard of living.

That you would champion their cause as a case of social justice isn’t just absurd – it’s obscene.

Ah, yes: “As a labor union booster, how can you promote worker solidarity with well-off workers?” It’s amazing how much mileage can be gotten out of endless variants of “How can you complain about X when there are starving people in Africa / women being oppressed in Saudi Arabia / poor people in Bangladesh who are grateful for manufacturing jobs?” Now be sure to clean your plates, everybody.

32

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 4:46 pm

“If this only happened at Harvard, you might have a point.”

Okay. So it happens at Princeton, Yale, and Stanford too – three other similarly prestigious institutions whose grad students pull the equivalent of $80-95K in salary from their stipend + their tuition waver. And they think that’s unjust? Well boo freaking hoo.

But since you raise the issue of other universities, let’s look at them too. Let’s consider a PhD student at Southeast Central Tier 3 State Teaching College. Let’s assume tuition there is substantially cheaper – only $30K a year. And let’s assume they get stipends too, but they’re only $16K (so 8K a semester). Well guess what? That same PhD student at Crapville State is still making the equivalent of $45K a year – not exactly a charity case by any reasonable metric when that’s TWICE the poverty line in the U.S.

33

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 4:48 pm

mds – Harvard fully funds most of its full-time PhD students as a condition of admission. That means their tuition is comped IN ADDITION to their stipend.

34

bjssp 10.16.15 at 4:52 pm

@Interlocutor:

Like I said before, you do make a reasonable point, but considering only financial concerns, I have to say that free tuition isn’t the same as a salary. You can’t live on it. No doubt that going there is not being forced on anyone, but it’s just not the same as a pure cash salary.

35

jdkbrown 10.16.15 at 5:00 pm

“Harvard fully funds most of its full-time PhD students as a condition of admission. That means their tuition is comped IN ADDITION to their stipend.”

No, it means their tuition is completely notional.

36

jdkbrown 10.16.15 at 5:03 pm

And just to follow up, you can tell its completely notional because students who come in with a Mellon grant or some other sort of external funding are not given an extra $4ok in stipend.

37

Layman 10.16.15 at 5:08 pm

“But since you raise the issue of other universities, let’s look at them too. Let’s consider a PhD student at Southeast Central Tier 3 State Teaching College. Let’s assume tuition there is substantially cheaper – only $30K a year. And let’s assume they get stipends too, but they’re only $16K (so 8K a semester). Well guess what? That same PhD student at Crapville State is still making the equivalent of $45K a year – not exactly a charity case by any reasonable metric when that’s TWICE the poverty line in the U.S.”

Shorter interlocutor: “Let them eat notional cake!”

38

Kevin 10.16.15 at 6:41 pm

If Harvard grad students unionize who doubts that the outcome of this will be marginally higher salaries and benefits for grad students. Ie., there is just no way that the administration would decide that such hikes are a budget buster and attempt to implement some other business model. This is like the NCAA talking about college athletes.

39

mds 10.16.15 at 6:49 pm

No, it means their tuition is completely notional.

What on earth are you talking about? My employer just declared that there would be a blanket $10,000 per annum fee charged to employees for use of office supplies, then generously waived it. We’re all still high-fiving one another about our $10,000 raises.

mds – Harvard fully funds most of its full-time PhD students as a condition of admission. That means their tuition is comped IN ADDITION to their stipend.

Why give them a stipend at all, then? They’re already getting compensated at the level of what would be a comfortably middle-class salary if it weren’t the Boston area.

40

Mdc 10.16.15 at 6:54 pm

Too bad the IRS hasn’t figured out the plum deal funded grad students are getting. Think of all the tax revenue they’re losing by not taxing waived tuition as income !

41

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 7:15 pm

“You can’t live on it. No doubt that going there is not being forced on anyone, but it’s just not the same as a pure cash salary.”

I’m not saying that it is completely fungible. But (1) it is worth something to the student and (2) it is comped for them IN ADDITION to their stipend.

Together, that means their claims about “poverty wages” are automatically understating their economic status – and severely so considering that Harvard tuition is a high demand good that’s worth a lot of money. That alone alters “social justice” case for helping Harvard grad students in a substantial way.

Would you not agree that the guy who makes $25K and lives in a slum is significantly worse off than the guy who makes $25K but gets to live rent-free at the nicest penthouse apartment in town because it is owned by his wealthy developer uncle? Why would the something similar not also apply for the guy who makes $25K but has free tuition at the nicest and most elite college in the country?

Not saying that grad school wages are particularly cushy or comfortable…just that on the list of people in need of “social justice,” PhD students at Harvard with $60K in free tuition and a 20-35K living stipend are…well…about 2 small spots ahead of the trust fund brat whose father takes away his Ferrari keys.

42

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 7:19 pm

Shorter Layman: “PhD students with a $35K stipend for 15 hours of work a week and 5 years of free tuition at Harvard are victims of poverty wages and social injustice!”

That’s more than a poverty-line family of 4 on an 80 hour work week makes BEFORE even taking the tuition benefits into account. If you think that Harvard student is the “victim” of some injustice, you are flat out insane.

43

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 7:23 pm

bjssp –

A PhD student at a decent public university can expect about $20-25K in stipend + tuition wavers (so ~$30K at public university rates).

A PhD student at a crappy public university can expect about $15K in stipend + tuition wavers, also at public university rates.

Also note that a tuition waver means you don’t have to take out student loans, which ARE semi-fungible since they also extend to certain living expenses.

44

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 7:26 pm

jdkbrown – “No, it means their tuition is completely notional.”

If tuition were not waved, those students would have to pay for $60K worth of tuition with student loans, would they not?

And student loans money is not notional – it’s a tangible asset that pays for tuition + certain living expenses. Free tuition is therefore a substitute for taking out student loans.

45

Paul 10.16.15 at 8:06 pm

Ph.D. tuition is indeed notional, or fictional if you prefer, at elite universities.

There is no real market for elite school doctoral education. Good students are as much an input in grad classes as an output.

46

Zamfir 10.16.15 at 8:20 pm

The following can all be true at the same time:
– waived PhD tuition is fictional and not in any sense an income.
– PhD students are nowhere near the most exploited people in the country, especially at Harvard.
– They can still be exploited by their institution, who have a strong position as gatekeepers on the road towards a job in academia. They would benefit from organizing as a union, even if they are not the most exploited people on the planet
– In fact, quite some people who get a real 80k a year can still benefit from unionization. Most people are in relatively weak position towards their employer, often more then they like to admit

47

mdc 10.16.15 at 8:29 pm

“If tuition were not waved, those students would have to pay for $60K worth of tuition with student loans, would they not?”

No, they would not.

48

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 9:14 pm

mdc – 45 –

“No, they would not.”

Where would their tuition come from then?

49

Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 9:18 pm

“There is no real market for elite school doctoral education. Good students are as much an input in grad classes as an output.”

Good lord, you people are full of yourselves.

50

Val 10.16.15 at 9:35 pm

Interlocutor – to be serious, the underlying reason grad students receive free tuition and stipends is because we are doing research that is seen to be of benefit to society and the university. In general, grad students may go on to have above average incomes, though not all will; however to see postgraduate education (or any education) merely in terms of personal benefit is seriously misleading.

I’m trying to summarise and move away from this side track, because although it is quite interesting (and raises issues we could no doubt debate at length), it gets away from Corey’s key points about the relationship of university management, staff and grad students.

As I’ve said, although I’m not at Harvard (I’m at a large university in Australia), I’m involved in those relationships myself, and I’m sure some of the issues involved would be the same as for students at Harvard or any American university. I prefer not to talk about the specifics, because these are real relationships involving real people, whom I like and respect, but I feel the issue in general merits scrutiny and I wish people would talk more about it.

Perhaps I can say a bit if I try to keep it general. In general, academic staff at my university know that management (again this is in principle rather than talking about individuals) in a neoliberal era, is trying to reduce costs. Staff have their own problems but also know that teaching assistants may be exploited – that there are system pressures that lead to us generally having to do more work than we get paid for. Staff will be sympathetic and advocate for us (‘I’ll make sure you get paid for the extra time you put in on such and such’ etc) but they are also under budgetary constraints.

Although grad students deal with university administration (‘HR’) on the technicalities of pay, negotiation over how much time we get paid for really occurs with the academic staff who coordinate units. So for example, when you’re doing assessment, a certain amount of time is allowed per essay depending on word length. This may be unrealistic (too short) in general, or in specific circumstances ( students have problems with a particular assignment, some students are failing, there’s cases of plagiarism, etc – all of which require extra time). The teaching assistants can bring that to the attention of the unit coordinator, who can then try to get some extra pay for them (or not) and so on. So as Corey and others have said, the academic staff are like front line management in that sense, even though it’s not their ‘job’. But at the same time, academic staff have a kind of ‘patron’ relationship with grad students and can have a very big effect on our careers, so it’s all very difficult.

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mdc 10.16.15 at 9:42 pm

No one in the world would attend Phd programs if they had to pay fees in tens of thousands for “tuition.”

“Tuition” is a fee charged to students to help defray instructional costs. Grad schools, however, are the means universities use to perpetuate themselves- they are (with some few exceptions) on-site job training centers. Just because the training is a cost to the university does not mean it is income to the student. Rather, it is a (small) part of overall labor costs.

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mdc 10.16.15 at 9:45 pm

None of the analogies in the thread seem to have helped you, but here’s another one: why don’t professional sports teams charge their employee-athetes tuition for pre-season training?

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Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 10:03 pm

“No one in the world would attend Phd programs if they had to pay fees in tens of thousands for “tuition.””

Then why do they attend undergraduate programs in throngs, paying tens of thousands in “tuition” in the process?

As much as you may tell yourself otherwise, “society” doesn’t see you as an innate benefit and doesn’t owe you a job or training for that job. The answer to both, of course, is you pay to go to college because you believe it will help you get a better job when you graduate. And the same is true of grad school vis-a-vis academic employment. As long as people think grad school will help them get the jobs they desire, they will also pay for grad school just like any other level of schooling.

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Interlocutor 10.16.15 at 10:07 pm

“why don’t professional sports teams charge their employee-athetes tuition for pre-season training?”

Because those athletes have already been “hired” in the majors under a performance-based contract.

You may think otherwise, but as a grad student you haven’t been hired for anything yet and you aren’t owed anything for simply being there. To continue the professional sports analogy, as a grad student you’re still the equivalent of the farm leaguer who’s trying to get enough notice for a call up to Triple-A so you can then get enough notice for a call up to be a bench warmer in the majors.

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Layman 10.16.15 at 10:18 pm

First they came for the Harvard grad students, but interlocutor said nothing, because he could imagine people worse off than them. Pfui.

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Bartleby the Commenter 10.16.15 at 10:29 pm

I could tell Interlocutor that universities depend on the labour of grad students to function and that sellers of labour must be allowed to unionize in order to negotiate fairly with management. I could also say that you rarely go wrong siding with workers against management. I could do these things.

But I would prefer not to.

57

Tony C 10.16.15 at 11:07 pm

It’s interesting how these comments reveal how different the Australian and European university systems are from the elite American universities. It would also be nice to know what specific demands the Harvard graduate students have. Higher stipends? Changes in working conditions? Better weather in Cambridge?

Two thoughts:

1) Faculty and graduate students interests in this matter are not necessarily aligned. For large lecture courses at Harvard, graduate student teaching assistants (a job which these students often do for their stipends) are invaluable – they lead recitation sections and do much (most) of the grading. The faculty may not care how much the TAs are paid (since the university, not the professor, pays), but they probably will resent work rules.

2) There is usually a real divide between humanities/social sciences grad students and STEM grad students in these unionization drives. STEM grad students are typically paid from grants/contract funds raised by individual professors, and can work solely on their research, not having to TA.

When I was a grad student at Yale during one of the failed grad student unionization drives there, I was told by the grad student union organizers that they weren’t interested in working to bring STEM grad students into the proto-union. They didn’t think they’d get many members from them.

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js. 10.16.15 at 11:48 pm

As long as people think grad school will help them get the jobs they desire, they will also pay for grad school just like any other level of schooling.

Ha! Look, dude, as Bartleby could tell you but prefers not to (because he is too sensible!), grad students serve as cheap labor for universities. The tuition write-off is because they’re still saving money. You think universities have grad students teaching classes as a service to grad students? Why am I even responding to this idiocy?

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ALD 10.17.15 at 12:36 am

It’s called an apprenticeship for a reason. And in exchange they give you free tuition, which in case you haven’t noticed is worth a crap load of money.

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km 10.17.15 at 12:55 am

Another point to consider. Institutions of higher education like Harvard retain a non-profit status, which means they aren’t taxed on all that glorious revenue they generate, which allows your Harvards of the world to squirrel it all away in huge endowments. In order to maintain their status as institutions of higher education, and therefore as non-profit institutions, they need to do some higher educating. For universities aspiring to the loftiest heights, you need to maintain a robust set of PhD programs across a range of disciplines. That means you need doctoral students to fill your rooms and labs, even before you set them to work “supporting” the faculty. All of which is to say, universities like Harvard aren’t simply providing a service to worthy applicants. They require graduate students as basic building materials for the whole university structure.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 10.17.15 at 1:45 am

I’m surprised people are treating Interlocutor as a serious… Maybe CT commenters should organize to demand better trolls.

LFC @3 it’s wrong, imo, to call Harvard, as the post does, the U.S.’s “most prestigious university. There is no effective difference in prestige between Harvard and the ten or fifteen other institutions one would think of as being at the top of some (notional) prestige hierarchy of research universities.”

To nitpick your nitpick, of course if you’re really, seriously trying to evaluate them, I’d go higher than even 10 or 15 institutions.* But if you are looking at prestige (which again hopefully people wouldn’t take that seriously if there’s anything at stake) then I’d say Harvard has a good claim to being #1.

* I might even give a handicap to non-Harvard/Princeton/Yale students–if you manage to become a really interesting person at an institution that doesn’t hurl bags of money at you, that says more about you than if you come out of Harvard sounding smart.

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Interlocutor 10.17.15 at 3:53 am

57 – I’m surprised the social justice crowd thinks that the highly paid, tuition-comped PhD students of the wealthiest and most elite universities in the world are “victims” of “poverty wages.” As noted above, the very premise of your argument is not only absurd – it’s obscene, considering that there are actual cases of genuine poverty in the world that don’t involve overprivileged brats who think their intellectual hobbies need to be subsidized by society and the universities even more than they already are at $35K in payment + $60K in tuition.

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PM 10.17.15 at 4:08 am

“You may think otherwise, but as a grad student you haven’t been hired for anything yet and you aren’t owed anything for simply being there.”

Look, you silly troll: Ph.D. students are not “students” in any meaningful sense. They are apprentices–and they are costs to the university, not profit centers. Admissions committees are much closer to hiring committees than to undergrad admissions counselors. That is how universities have been run for more than a century. If you think Ph.D. students are akin to MD or JD students, you simply don’t have the standing to be in this conversation.

” To continue the professional sports analogy, as a grad student you’re still the equivalent of the farm leaguer who’s trying to get enough notice for a call up to Triple-A so you can then get enough notice for a call up to be a bench warmer in the majors.”

And in this analogy, grad students would be … workers? Who are paid (not much!) for their services? Except that grad students are ALSO doing lots of actual labor (teaching and research) for the university–which means they are also more employee-like than the folks in the minors.

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adam.smith 10.17.15 at 5:37 am

I find the part of the discussion started by “Interlocutor” bizarre. Does it say somewhere in a passage of the Wagner Act I’m not familiar with that you have to receive “poverty wages” to be allowed to unionize?
My sense was never that wages were the primary concern of grad student union organizers: they’re mostly about providing some degree of protection–against unfair bosses, in case of sickness, for folks with families, etc.–to graduate students.

I think apprentices are exactly the right analogy, which is also why I’m not terribly upset by grad student wages as long as they’re living wages (which Harvard’s certainly are), but just as apprentices can unionize, so should TAs/RAs.

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Interlocutor 10.17.15 at 5:46 am

59 –

Look, you silly deluded person. Arguing that students are not students, except when they are, ignores the reality that they are indeed students. As I originally noted above, many characteristics of graduate student life are akin to an apprenticeship to becoming future professors (or other “intellectual” career paths). But doing so involves learning, and learning involves completing the required classes, and in those classes they are very much the students. As students, they are also receiving something of value from the university – something that must be paid for in tuition under any normal and reasonable circumstance. But that only bolsters my original point, as part of the “payment” that funded grad students receive for their apprenticeship is tuition for their courses IN ADDITION to their stipends. If you can’t comprehend that the tuition waver is a valuable benefit in itself, and that it’s a part of the package on top of their wage compensation, then you are living in a fantasy land of “free” education for everyone powered on hopes, changes, feels, and rainbow-colored unicorn farts. And in that case, nothing that I or anyone else says will ever relieve you of your absurd and ridiculous detachment from reality.

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Collin Street 10.17.15 at 5:47 am

> Look, you silly troll

Enh.

Before you abuse people, it’s always a good idea to ask, “is this behaviour consistent with the person’s having a mental-health or cognitive problem”.

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Val 10.17.15 at 6:09 am

@65
PhD students don’t do many classes as such. As I said earlier, we do research. As far as I know that’s true in US, UK and elsewhere, as well as here (Australia). That’s what the PhD is for – doing original research.

I don’t believe in trying to analyse people online, but it’s not quite clear why you are having this argument.

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Interlocutor 10.17.15 at 6:27 am

67 – I’m not sure what type of program you are in, but in the US (where Harvard is located, the last time I checked – not Australia as some people on this thread strangely keep reverting to as their baseline of comparison) a typical PhD requires about 90 credit hours beyond the baccalaureate degree.

Roughly 50-60 of these are classroom credits at the 500 to 800 level (this usually amounts to the first ~2.5 years of a direct-to-PhD track, or the Master’s part + a couple semesters of the MA-to-PhD track). The rest are independent research and thesis/dissertation hours. Most PhD students don’t really “do” original research until around the 3rd/4th year of their program, or at least not as their primary task. Since the time before that is in fact spent in the classroom, the majority of the tuition credit is very much a tangible classroom good tied to a lecture or faculty-directed seminar format.

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Val 10.17.15 at 11:16 am

@ 68
Sounds like that system is different from ours then. I don’t think anyone was talking about the Australian system much except me, because I was interested in some aspects about the relationship of grad students as teaching associates (assistants as they seem to be called there), academic staff and university management, which sound similar there and here. I’m not interested in the fight you want to have, as far as I’m concerned if students at Harvard or anywhere else want to unionise, good luck to them.

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PM 10.17.15 at 12:26 pm

90 credit hours?? My program, which was viewed by people at other graduate schools as being weird and coursework-heavy, had a maximum of 48 credit hours, and most people completed only 30-36, since they entered with a master’s degree. More to the point, the lowest grade I ever heard of anyone receiving was a B, because the point wasn’t the grades or the coursework–the grades meant nothing and the coursework was just directed reading–but whether the faculty thought you could finish.

You seem to be operating under the delusion that there’s a relationship between tuition and costs of education (there isn’t, at any level) and a similar delusion that there is a “market” for doctoral education leading to a research degree (as others have observed, NOBODY would pay for a Ph.D., because being offered admission to most Ph.D. programs without a corresponding funding package is essentially a polite way of rejecting a student). If you can’t understand that Ph.D. tuition charges are just an administrative fiction driven by the needs of the bureaucracy to credit faculty teaching loads and keep the other parts of the enterprise ticking over, then it’s really you who have clearly never sat in on university governing processes.

Nobody argues that the Ph.D., of itself, lacks value. But the notion that compensation in form of progress toward the Ph.D. is in itself compensation in the same way that wages are overlooks the simple points that wages are fungible and Ph.D.s are not, that you pay rent now but earn a Ph.D. later, and that valuing the Ph.D. according to the purely nominal and fictitious tuition charges leads to radically misvaluing the proposition even on its own terms, as mds @31 mentioned.

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Jerry Vinokurov 10.17.15 at 1:49 pm

Oh look, it’s ye olde “how dare you complain when someone somewhere is worse off than you” gambit. How droll.

As already pointed out, the “tuition” in grad school is an entirely fictional number. If I conjur up a number from thin air and then “waive” it, I have not thereby created $60,000 worth of actual benefits, and everyone knows this. That number could be $100,000 or $1 million, for all that it reflects reality, since it never changes hands except as an accounting gimmick. And this makes sense because actually graduate students do not cost the university much of anything at the margins; rather they provide a sizable benefit because they a) do work which gets grants on which the university charges overhead, and b) teach undergraduates. Grad students are the machinery that keeps the modern research university moving. I wish I had had the benefit of union representation as a graduate student, but the union did not form until after I had graduated.

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Interlocutor 10.17.15 at 3:55 pm

70 – Your PhD program certainly sounds weird if it only requires 48 hours, but I can’t see it being “heavy” in much of anything considering that would make it between 1/3rd and 1/2 shorter than the typical PhD program in the U.S.

(90 hours is a benchmark btw. Some require a little less, some a little more. The University of Illinois, which is typical of a large public U., requires 96 for example: http://www.grad.illinois.edu/gradhandbook/2/chapter6/credit-hour-requirements)

The only consistent delusion on this thread is the apparent belief held by you and a few others that graduate coursework should not only be a “free” good for you, but should not count in any way as a benefit that you receive in addition to your stipend when calculating what your university actually gives you to sustain your entitled journey through a grad program as you pursue your intellectual hobbies at somebody else’s expense.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 10.17.15 at 3:55 pm

PM @70 then it’s really you who have clearly never sat in on university governing processes probably never even applied to a PhD program.

TFTFY

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Interlocutor 10.17.15 at 3:59 pm

71 – If “tuition” in grad school is an entirely fictional number, then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if they took away your “tuition” stipend (it is meaningless and made up, after all!) and simply started sending you a bill for your credit hours earned at the university’s published rate for undergrads. How about that deal? Would you take it? If not, then “tuition” is evidently less fictional than you let on.

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kidneystones 10.17.15 at 4:44 pm

I think it most unlikely that any/many Harvard faculty will bother to even finish reading the administration list before tossing it.

As Corey notes, the overwhelming majority of scholars at Harvard belong to the first rank and have long had their own very full ”to do’ lists, which are each almost entirely devoted to advancing individual careers. Few faculty have the time/inclination to assist their own graduate students beyond meeting the responsibilities outlined by contract, most loathe committee/admin work, and none I can imagine will have the slightest interest at all in volunteering to provide unpaid labor of suspect value on the administration’s behalf.

That is all.

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adam.smith 10.17.15 at 5:12 pm

The other bizarre thing here is that somehow this is getting portrayed as “tuition waiver is worth nothing” vs. “tuition waiver is worth its sticker price”.
It’s obviously not worth nothing, otherwise grad students would be idiots to work for 20-30k.
But given that literally no PhD student pays tuition at Harvard, it’s equally obviously an entirely arbitrary number. Otherwise, you’d have to compare it to the net price that undergrads pay, and that then gets you into odd calculations where PhD students from rich families (who’d pay full sticker price as undergrads) receive de-factor higher pay. I don’t think anyone at Harvard thinks of the sticker price as relevant, either. Certainly when I was a grad student (at a rich private school with similar sticker price), the actual amount of the tuition waiver was never mentioned, neither in our offer letters nor in later announcements of pay increases.

Again, though, why does it matter how much grad students make? NBA players and oil rig workers also make good salaries. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t unionize.

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Mdc 10.17.15 at 5:29 pm

“As a grad student you haven’t been hired for anything yet “

Um, they want a union because they are right now university employees. You get that much, don’t you?

No one is “owed” job training, just like no Wendy’s employee is owed a uniform. And yet some employers provide training without charging employees. Why? It’s not out of the goodness of their hearts. Some employers don’t – why not? It’s not because they’re stingy bastards.

The labor movement is not and never has been about “social justice”, moral suasion, or what people are “owed” in the abstract. It’s about market forces and bargaining power.

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Bartleby the Commenter 10.17.15 at 5:42 pm

“The labor movement is not and never has been about “social justice”, moral suasion, or what people are “owed” in the abstract. It’s about market forces and bargaining power.”

I would say the Labour Movement is about ALL those things and that conceding that everything is always and only about market forces is morally wrong and also a HUGE mistake tactically.

I would have this discussion but I would prefer not to

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Fuzzy Dunlop 10.17.15 at 6:27 pm

adam.smith @76 The other bizarre thing here is that somehow this is getting portrayed as “tuition waiver is worth nothing” vs. “tuition waiver is worth its sticker price”. It’s obviously not worth nothing, otherwise grad students would be idiots to work for 20-30k.

But have you considered opportunity costs? Most if not all PhDs’ motives are dominated by factors other than lifetime income. If our goal was maximizing lifetime income then most of us would, in fact, have been idiots to start PhDs with $20k/year stipends (and that’s a really good stipend in the humanities). I, at least, could have done much more profitable things after finishing my BS+BA double major. I think most people that stand a good chance of even getting into a PhD program are academically strong enough in some field that they could have made much more within 5 years than the average BA/BS in their field, if applying straight out of college, and somewhat better than an average MA/MS for those applying during/after their masters.

The only reasonable premise for this discussion is that the tuition waiver is worth nowhere near the sticker price if that is anywhere near undergrad tuition rates for those courses. I doubt anyone who even seriously considers getting a PhD believes otherwise (and I actually don’t believe that Interlocutor believes what s/he is saying about that, in the sense that were they or a loved one to consider offers from PhD programs in–to pick something presumably middle-of-the-road employment-prospects-wise–public policy for tuition + $5k/year stipend for 5 years, they would not choose or recommend this as a good offer. This is why I called troll.)

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Interlocutor 10.17.15 at 7:05 pm

“Certainly when I was a grad student (at a rich private school with similar sticker price), the actual amount of the tuition waiver was never mentioned, neither in our offer letters nor in later announcements of pay increases.”

I’ve never found such information difficult to obtain. Perhaps it is hard to come by if you don’t know how to do a basic search on the internet or if you are in the habit of signing any document placed in front of you without reading it first. But most departments or schools publish their average tuition, e.g. https://www.gsas.harvard.edu/prospective_students/costs_tuition_and_fees.php

Or you could simply calculate it by credit hour, which is actually where the figure comes from (Harvard charges a little under $5K per credit hour, so if you’re taking a 3 credit class that amounts to a little under $15K for the class…so a full time PhD student would be in the neighborhood of $40-45K prior to fees). In any case, it’s not at all difficult to figure out if you can perform a little basic multiplication. And if you can’t do that…well…you probably shouldn’t be in a PhD program.

“NBA players and oil rig workers also make good salaries. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t unionize.”

Doesn’t mean they should either though. So either you are reduced to making the argument that either (A) unions are innately desirable, because…unions!, which is idiotic, or (B) unions are needed for moral and/or economic reasons, in which case it is fair to present questions about economic and/or social justice to those who advocate for their creation.

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Interlocutor 10.17.15 at 7:16 pm

“But have you considered opportunity costs?”

Since you mention it…

Option A: Go to grad school on a stipend + tuition waver, emerge 5 years later having made 20-35K a year, but with no debt for your tuition and a PhD in hand. Then try to find an academic job if you can, which does tend to be easier for Harvard grads. If you can find one then you’ll comfortably start at around $50K and have job security the rest of your working life doing something you like to do. If not, you may find yourself settling for an entry level job at something else for $35-40K.

Option B: Get a law degree or MBA, emerge 3 years later with about $120K in student loan debt. If you’re at Harvard you’ll probably be able to land a job with relative ease in either field. Then you’ll work very long hours in a relatively high paying professional job, paying off your debt for the next 10-20 years. But if you stick with it you’ll retire reasonably wealthy.

Option C: Skip grad school. Get an entry level job at $35-40K. Advance through the ranks and hope that after 5 years you’re in the 50-75K range, in which case you’ll be financially better off than the people who went to grad school but without an advanced degree in hand, so you may be in a less desirable field. You will probably have a leg up though over those who spent 5 years getting a PhD but were unable to find an academic job.

I still fail to see why Option A is “owed” anything though beyond the already extremely-generous conditions they already have upon entering grad school.

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js. 10.17.15 at 7:51 pm

Harvard charges a little under $5K per credit hour, so if you’re taking a 3 credit class that amounts to a little under $15K for the class…so a full time PhD student would be in the neighborhood of $40-45K prior to fees [emph. added–js.]

Good god.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 10.17.15 at 8:20 pm

Interlocutor, first off you’re wrong on the opportunity costs, it’s more like 7 years than 5 years (except in economics, AFAIK) and somebody in the 50-75k range w/o an advanced degree but with 7 years work experience is not only financially better off, they are definitely more employable than a freshly-minted PhD, even a Harvard PhD (again, assuming this is someone who could have been accepted to a Harvard PhD program in the first place), and not only that, they probably have a lot more options in terms of what kinds of jobs and industries they could work in. PhD skills may be transferable, but it takes a lot of work and probably further foregone income (emphasis on further–you’re close to 30 at this point and probably haven’t had a chance save) to make that transition.

And then, you lean extremely heavily both on academic jobs themselves being inherently more desirable, which is only as true as actual PhD students really feel that it is, and thus nonsense as an argument against a grad student-led unionization drive–and on Harvard PhDs being exceptionally employable. And that last premise leads to nonsense–only Harvard (& Yale, Princeton…) students don’t have a right to unionize? Why make an exception just for them?

It’s like you entered this conversation thinking academics should be ashamed of being in an ‘impractical’ career (you’ve said as much already), and resentful/ashamed of Harvard students for being Harvard students. Trollollololol.

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Interlocutor 10.17.15 at 11:58 pm

I used 5 years because that’s the industry standard for how long a department will fully fund PhD students who qualify for such things. If it takes you 7, then I’m left to conclude that you’re simply slow…which also seems to be a pattern around this place.

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kidneystones 10.18.15 at 12:56 am

@83 is on the mark. I returned to graduate school as a part-time student with a job, a mortgage, with additional income from a rental property, and with dependents. Students with a solid employment record tend to find academic life a welcome change and challenge, and do rather well.

Switching from part-time to full-time, however, is impractically and prohibitively expensive. Lost income in the 50-70k range render waived tuition and stipends moot. The pittance paid most graduate students in ‘make work’ and research assistant 10 hour-a-week employment couldn’t pay the rent, much less support a family and maintain a mortgage. As a result, I paid the full-freight and committed a portion of my own income to the costs.

Why is this important? Because the real cost of graduate school for applicants with successful careers and good incomes prevents many/some highly capable candidates from entering disciplines in which they might excel.

Doing a doctorate is an extremely good idea for anyone seriously interested in mastering any subject. In my view, we need to do more/something to make doctoral studies available to those who do not require anything more than expert guidance, a community of learners, and access to the best resources. Only a small group of possible candidates are willing to uproot families, pull the kids out school, and take a massive income hit in order to become full-time students. It took me 5 years to finish the masters and won’t boast about the plaudits. Suffice to say I took the time and applied the resources to do it right. The doctorate produces work of an even higher standard because of the guidance I receive from peers and my supervisor. But the entire process remains far, far, too expensive for a group of those of us with the skills to excel inside and outside academia.

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LFC 10.18.15 at 1:00 am

@Interlocutor

Why do you repeatedly use the belittling word “hobbies” to refer to graduate students’ academic pursuits? They are not “hobbies.” And btw, at least a few grad students’ work over the years has no doubt resulted in improved life chances and/or conditions for people in poverty (either domestically or abroad) for whom you profess to be so concerned.

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adam.smith 10.18.15 at 5:05 am

@Fuzzy Dunlop:
I’m not really sure why you think I’d disagree with much of that, since I say in the next sentence that the sticker price is obviously nonsense. But do you really disagree with the fact that the tuition waiver is obviously worth _something_? At a minimum you get a free gym pass, a post.harvard.edu e-mail for life, and a student ID that gets you a whole bunch of discounts. Given that people do pay to attend no-degree courses through Harvard Extension, presumably getting them for free has some real market value, too.
I’m a little confused by the fact that it seems so important to people to turn Harvard grad students into les damnés de la terre. I don’t think it makes sense to pretend that the social or economic position of a Harvard PhD student is the same as that of, say, a food service worker making the same nominal salary. I still don’t see, however, what that should have to do with their ability to unionize.

@Interlocutor:

I’ve never found such information difficult to obtain. Perhaps it is hard to come by if you don’t know how to do a basic search on the internet or if you are in the habit of signing any document placed in front of you without reading it first.

that’s not a response to what I wrote, which was that the graduate school never actively advertised it as part of information about pay. If they did consider tuition waivers to have monetary value just like regular pay, they would presumably have done that. They felt (correctly) that the dollar amount of my stipend was relevant; the dollar amount of the tuition waiver wasn’t. I’m pretty sure that’s universally the case for graduate schools. It is true that tuition information is not kept secret and is obtainable by anyone interested, but that’s not the point. But since you’ve now started to just insult people, I guess you’ve stopped being interested in having some type of discussion, anyway.

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Meredith 10.18.15 at 5:12 am

Came across this just now on facebook (a friend who teaches at a community college) and thought of Corey’s post. Back in 1895, John Dewey was onto something: https://www.facebook.com/VirginiaEducationAssociation/photos/a.155487655291.120397.151134015291/10153244157790292/?type=3&theater

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protoplasm 10.18.15 at 8:57 am

Responding to Interlocutor: who knew it would be a waste of time? Other than each of us, of course. He has nothing to offer or add to our discussion and he (or, because he) demonstrably does not share the values of our community. Bartleby won’t talk to him, and I, as a long-time lurker and fan of every CT comment thread that doesn’t end up chasing a troll’s tail, exhort the rest of y’all to do the same. (My apologies, Interlocutor, if I’ve misgendered you.)

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Barry 10.18.15 at 12:33 pm

Interlocutor 10.17.15 at 3:59 pm
“71 – If “tuition” in grad school is an entirely fictional number, then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if they took away your “tuition” stipend (it is meaningless and made up, after all!) and simply started sending you a bill for your credit hours earned at the university’s published rate for undergrads. How about that deal? Would you take it? If not, then “tuition” is evidently less fictional than you let on.”

Adding on to Adam.Smith’s comment, the whole point in these discussions is that for the most part Ph.D. program tuition is a 90-99% non-market price. I believe that it’s what’s called a ‘transfer price’, as in intracorporate accounting.

Harvard *might* be an exception (likely not), but if I waved Milton Friedman’s magic wand of Ceteris Paribus and converted all Ph.D.programs from ‘waivers’ to taking out loans (such as for professional programs), they’d fare as well as the dinosaurs did after the Chicxulub impact.

You can’t pay off loans like that as a professor, even a successful one (again, Harvard *might* be an exception). My school, the University of Michigan, charges $10k/semester for instate students, $20k/semester for out of state students. The overwhelming majority were from out of state, so the figure for a Ph.D. would be $150K on up. And that’s for a *shot* at becoming a professor, which in general would not pay enough to pay off that amount without massive and painful financial sacrifice for decades.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 10.18.15 at 1:55 pm

adam.smith But do you really disagree with the fact that the tuition waiver is obviously worth _something_? At a minimum you get a free gym pass, a post.harvard.edu e-mail for life, and a student ID that gets you a whole bunch of discounts.

No, you’re right, it’s worth something, I’m being too contrary. I’d still say it’s a negligible amount though. Gym membership and library access are basically perks.*

More complicated is the tuition for courses contributing to the MA/MS for PhD students that get into a program straight out of undergrad (and how many PhD students come straight out of undergrad? I’m thinking it’s not too many…?), but judging by the very small number of people who intentionally leave the PhD program with just an MA, at least in my extended circles, I wouldn’t count it for much, and then you have to weigh it against the job experience not obtained relative to somebody who’s been working all that time. The economic value (outside of academia) of a literature or history course for a PhD student who already has an MA in one of those fields is negligible. So I’d really say the economic value of ‘free’ tuition is negligible.

* I might actually pay hundreds of dollars a year for a really good university library membership now that I’m not a student, if I didn’t have some kind of library access through an academic job, but really, only because I’m in this line of work and have professional needs for a library. When you’re in grad school, it’s a resource for doing your job, full stop.

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Barry 10.18.15 at 4:13 pm

BTW, the market value of a tuition waiver was covered on the blog ‘Invisible Adjunct’ back in the day. Unfortunately, that blog is not available.

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Helen 10.18.15 at 11:58 pm

Interlocutor views research as merely an intellectual hobby. It is this kind of anti-intellectualism which is crippling my country (I’m another Australian.) If a university activity of any kind can’t be demonstrated to immediately result in a new widget for an already known process or profit dollars, it’s deemed to be useless. If scientists and scholars had thought like that through the last millenium, we would still be getting about in buggies and enjoying C19th-style rates of infant mortality.

The *entire premise* of a university is that enquiry is of value in and of itself. And we can’t get anywhere without “pure” research.

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Val 10.19.15 at 1:08 am

Helen raises broader points about universities in a neo-liberal age. This seems very relevant to why grad students are pressured to work to unrealistic university ‘metrics’ that under-estimate the actual time taken to do the work (eg when doing assessment).

I do wonder how tenured academic staff (faculty as I think they are usually called in the US) feel about their place in the production line? This is a broader issue raised by Corey’s OP. Even though the context at Harvard is different to here, it seems the neoliberal pressures are similar. As I think there are many academic staff reading CT, it would be interesting to hear their views.

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magari 10.19.15 at 12:35 pm

If you are paid for your labor, you should be able to join with your peers to bargain for your side. I’m always surprised, and will always be so, when people want to find reasons why workers shouldn’t be able to organize.

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Jerry Vinokurov 10.19.15 at 7:51 pm

71 – If “tuition” in grad school is an entirely fictional number, then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if they took away your “tuition” stipend (it is meaningless and made up, after all!) and simply started sending you a bill for your credit hours earned at the university’s published rate for undergrads. How about that deal? Would you take it? If not, then “tuition” is evidently less fictional than you let on.

If only the entirely made up number that exists for no purposes other than to act as an accounting entity were in fact a real thing, then everything would be different!

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Bartleby the Commenter 10.19.15 at 7:55 pm

“If you are paid for your labor, you should be able to join with your peers to bargain for your side. I’m always surprised, and will always be so, when people want to find reasons why workers shouldn’t be able to organize.”

As I prefered not to say earlier you rarely go wrong siding with labour against management.

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Helen 10.20.15 at 1:02 am

If you are paid for your labor, you should be able to join with your peers to bargain for your side. I’m always surprised, and will always be so, when people want to find reasons why workers shouldn’t be able to organize.

Yes, and the peak bodies which employers and professionals join to further their own interest rarely come in for criticism, unlike labour unions. In Oz we have the Chamber of Commerce, various Employer “unions”, the AMA (Doctor’s “union”), and the list goes on…

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thelastbeatpoet 10.20.15 at 11:07 pm

Harvard is #1 gloabally,
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-global-universities/rankings?int=a27a09

How would unionized grad students effect this ranking? Improve it: No, because Harvard is at 100 already. Unless the ranking metric goes to 111 …

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Jerry Vinokurov 10.21.15 at 2:58 am

Speaking of made up numbers…

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