UC Berkeley graduate students turned out in force at Cal on Wednesday to protest a proposed student tax hike they say could prevent non-wealthy students from pursuing graduate degrees. The rally mirrored many others that took place at universities around the country Wednesday.
The tax bill passed by the House of Representatives would tax graduate students on their waived tuition. The provision has been called a “ghost tax,” because it would tax up to tens of thousands of dollars the students never receive as income. A Ph.D. student might, for example, currently receive and pay taxes on a $30,000 annual stipend, but, under the new bill, they would be taxed on the additional $25,000 that makes up the tuition at the university as well.
“The GOP tax bill hurts student workers, dis-incentivizes higher education and hurts the university,” said graduate student Robin Pearce, speaking at the rally, which drew 300 to 400 people to a sunny Sproul Plaza around noon.
The event was organized by the graduate student and postdoctoral unions, along with other campus labor and political groups. Union representatives delivered speeches, interspersed with chants, before marching to deliver a letter to the office of UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ. Similar “Grad Tax Walkout” protests also took place Wednesday at other schools, reportedly including all other UC campuses.
Speakers and attendees repeatedly said the proposed tax increase could have a “catastrophic” effect on the graduate student population in the U.S. and on the research they produce. The proposed reform would require UC Berkeley graduate students to pay between $1,200 and $8,000 more in taxes, according to analysis presented by a doctoral student at the rally.