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5/01/2004 03:56:00 PM | Timothy

The Village Voice on Grad Students
Grad students have always resigned themselves to relative poverty in anticipation of a cushy, tenured payoff. But in the past decade, the rules of the game have changed. Budget pressures have spurred universities' increasing dependence on so-called "casual labor," which damages both the working conditions of graduate students and their job prospects. Over half of the classroom time at major universities is now logged by non-tenure-track teachers, both graduate teaching assistants—known as TAs—and adjuncts. At community colleges, part-timers make up 60 percent of the faculties.

Average teaching loads for grad students have increased, while benefits are often cut off after five years. Humanities TAs are paid stipends ranging from less than $10,000 at a public school like SUNY-Buffalo to $18,000 at unionized NYU. Adjuncts, more and more likely to be recent post-docs who couldn't find a better position, earn less than $3,000 a course—usually without benefits, and far less than the $60,000 yearly national average for full-time professors. Meanwhile, the debt burden has grown: The average holder of a graduate degree spends 13.5 percent of his or her income paying back loans (eight percent is considered manageable). Fifty-three percent of those holding master's degrees, 63 percent of those holding doctorates, and 69 percent of those holding professional degrees are over $30,000 in debt. If they end up as "marginal employees," the academic freedom and security of tenure is replaced by a constant anxiety and alienation.



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