Grad students stage walk outs to protest tax cut legislation

Hundreds of graduate student employees around the country are making a last stand against the Republican-backed tax reform bill ahead of a crucial Senate vote.

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The effort, organized in part by the Save Graduate Education movement, began late Wednesday and specifically targets the House version of the legislation passed in early November.

“Today we have about 50 universities at this point that have organized their own grassroots actions to protest this bill,” Jenna Freudenburg, one of the student organizers leading the effort, told Democracy Now. “At my university, Ohio State, we’re actually hosting a teach-in and a grade-in, where we are going to be publicly performing our work as academic laborers.”

Alongside Ohio State, other universities have also encouraged students to oppose the GOP measure, issuing blistering statements against the initiative.

Earlier in November, Penn State President Eric Barron publicly criticized the bills, urging students to make “your concerns known” to the American Council on Education.

“Along with other universities across the country, we are raising red flags about the possible serious and long-term negative consequences of some of these proposals,” he said. “You also can play a role by making your concerns known via the online site of the American Council on Education (ACE), a higher education advocacy group to which Penn State belongs.”

Graduate Teaching Assistants at the University of Kansas, meanwhile, staged a “walk out” on Wednesday, abandoning their teaching duties to protest the legislation, The Daily Kansan reports.

Freudenburg said the protesters’ main objection is a provision within the House bill that could raise the cost of education by eliminating tax exemptions for graduate student tuition waivers, which complement stipends as compensation for graduate student employees.

“This is the particular provision we are most concerned about. However, this is just one of a number of troubling provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the bill that target higher education,” Freudenberg explained, noting that one version of the bill would end tax deductions for student loan interest payments, and that a proposal to end state and local tax deductions could impact higher education funding.

[RELATED: UPenn urges students to lobby against GOP tax plan]

The organizers of the walkout currently allow participating groups to register their protest online, and be notified of other activist efforts that are happening in their region.

“The GOP tax bill would raise taxes on graduate students by nearly 400%,” the organization argues. “Graduate students serve our communities; we are the future of the arts, social justice, public policy, technological innovation, and scientific breakthroughs. With your help, we can keep graduate education affordable and inclusive.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the growing list of participating graduate schools includes Duke University, Harvard University, University of Delaware, Rutgers University, and dozens more.

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