Don't Leave Some Grad Workers Behind on Fee Elimination

Harvey Stenger, President, Binghamton University; John B. King, Jr., Chancellor, State University of New York

In the Spring 2022 Semester, after years of campaigning by graduate student employees, Binghamton University created a scholarship to cover broad-based fees previously stolen from graduate workers’ wages. This scholarship was granted only to fully funded, PhD-track graduate workers. It resulted in the recovery of as much as $2,741 of those employees’ annual compensation. However, many of our fellow graduate employees have been excluded from this necessary development, including master’s, non-PhD doctoral, and international graduate student workers.

As of right now, graduate workers in master’s programs are still required to pay broad-based fees of up to $2,741 annually, and international students are forced to pay additional fees on top of that. In many situations, these students are working alongside domestic PhD workers as TAs and GAs in the same departments—even the same classes—for much lower pay.

Binghamton University has been promised recurring funding from the New York State budget, to increase each year until total fee elimination is achieved for all graduate workers. But the administration continues to act as if master’s and international graduate worker fees will not be abolished. SUNY Albany has already eliminated fees for the entirety of their graduate worker population in anticipation of the receipt of these funds, and Stony Brook has done away with international student fees entirely. What is Binghamton University waiting for?

All graduate workers, whether TA, GA, or RA, master’s or doctoral student (PhD, EdD, PharmD), domestic or international, make valuable contributions to ensure that Binghamton University functions at the highest possible level. The financial burden of exorbitant broad-based fees leaves many of us living hand to mouth under extreme financial distress. It is unacceptable that only national PhD students are offered this financial relief, while their counterparts in master’s programs and their international student colleagues perform the same jobs under more desperate financial circumstances. The refusal of the administration to provide equal pay for equal work directly contributes to financial inequality among the very workers who, according to the University, form the backbone of this institution.

Sign this petition to call upon President Harvey Stenger to abolish ALL broad-based fees for ALL graduate workers (TAs, GAs, and RAs), regardless of their international status or degree program.

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To: Harvey Stenger, President, Binghamton University; John B. King, Jr., Chancellor, State University of New York
From: [Your Name]

John B. King, Jr.
Chancellor, State University of New York

Harvey Stenger
President, Binghamton University

Chancellor King and President Stenger,

We, the undersigned, are staff, students, and faculty of Binghamton University and their supporters. We are writing this statement to protest the continued imposition of graduate student fees for MA, MS, and international students. The status of these fees as a condition of TA/GA/RA employment amounts to an unjust pay-to-work scheme. We are calling for all fees for international student TAs/GAs and TAs/GAs in master’s programs to be frozen immediately. We demand that Binghamton University develop a plan to eliminate fees for Graduate Student Employees in master’s and non-PhD doctoral programs, just as the University did for PhD graduate workers. In addition, we demand the elimination of discriminatory fees for our international student colleagues.

Graduate students constitute the largest research and teaching labor pools at Binghamton with numerous educational and professional strains. They perform over 50% of the pedagogical labor throughout SUNY, bringing in mind-boggling sums in tuition, and they bolster the institution’s prestige through research grants and recruitment activities. Until the beginning of this school year, graduate students who work for the University were required to pay roughly their entire first paycheck back to their employer in the form of graduate student fees. These fees, totaling up to $1,235 per semester, were eliminated for PhD track graduate workers, but not for MA/MS students, despite there being no consistent difference in workload, duties, or research expectations between these groups.

In addition, international students are still required to pay exorbitant fees, regardless of degree track. This is highly discriminatory, and forces hardships onto students that are already dealing with the many challenges facing non-citizen workers in America. The effects of this prejudice start early in an international student’s journey at Binghamton. Unlike their American citizen counterparts, the $50 application fee required for admission to graduate school at Binghamton cannot be waived, regardless of financial need. Once admitted, international students are also required to pay $95 per semester in additional fees. The breakdown of these fees and what they are intended to fund is completely absent on both the graduate school and ISSS pages, leaving international students in the dark regarding the fate of their stolen wages.

The administration insists that the fees graduate students are forced to pay are required to maintain services used by these students, including technology they require to perform their duties as employees of the University ($403.50). Graduate workers are also charged for University transportation services and infrastructure used primarily by undergraduates ($97.50), health services that are largely inaccessible ($200), and miscellaneous fees such as the “Academic Excellence” fee ($262.50) and “College” fee ($137.50) for which no explanation is offered. Funding these services is not the responsibility of graduate workers who make as little as $10,800 per year on full-time stipends. Administrators, faculty, staff, and PhD track graduate workers do not pay back their personal salaries to finance resources that they use to do their jobs; master’s, non-PhD, and international graduate workers should not be made to do so either.

In June 2023, SUNY announced plans to allot $3M across SUNY and CUNY institutions for the purposes of fee elimination, with Binghamton set to receive $563,000. According to this plan, this amount will increase to $6M next year, and will continue increasing each year until the goal of total fee elimination is met. Binghamton is set to receive a portion sufficient to cover our graduate worker population each year. Though this money is set aside expressly for the goal of fee elimination, the administration continues to act as if PhD track graduate workers’ fees are the only ones they can afford to waive. With the promise of these funds, SUNY Albany has already done away with fees for the entirety of its graduate worker population—PhD and non-PhD track alike. Meanwhile, Stony Brook University has eliminated international student fees entirely. What is Binghamton University waiting for?

Management knows that non-PhD track and international graduate student employees are starving and yet they refuse to provide any meaningful relief. They are singularly focused on pilfering some of the shallowest pockets at this institution for funds to finance the services and infrastructure for which they are responsible. They will continue to shift the burden onto student workers—not because it’s necessary, but because it is convenient.

We are fed up. In what other workplace is a select group of employees singled out to pay for the maintenance costs of their workplace? Why do the most underpaid of our colleagues have to foot the bill for our employer’s infrastructure? Do office workers pay the rent for their office building? Do public transportation drivers pay the salaries of bus mechanics? Of course they do not, and neither should we.

For the reasons stated above, we the undersigned firmly believe that the Binghamton University administration is acting against the will and interests of all graduate students, regardless of degree track or citizenship status.

For the future and safety of the Binghamton community, we must fight to protect all graduate students. During this time of global unrest, we must recognize that our individual wellness depends on the wellness of one another.

Fees for all graduate employees must be eliminated.

Sincerely, the undersigned students and employees of Binghamton University and their supporters,