The Republican Congress is currently debating, voting on, and passing extremely complex legislation designed to change the tax code. As of Dec. 2, the Senate version of this legislation was passed, and has seen a range of analyses ranging from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Forbes, Vox, and the Washington Post. This article will not be focusing on the Senate version, but rather the House version, which is still under debate.

As reported by NPR, the House version is especially controversial in academia because the bill treats graduate tuition waivers as taxable income. Graduate students often see the high tuition costs of graduate education waived by their institutions to allow them to come and study, especially if they cannot otherwise afford to study. These waivers are currently tax-exempt, so taxing them would create a serious new burden for the 145,000 graduate students in the nation. As Sarah Arveson has written, at Yale, grad students earn about $30,000 a year, but without tuition waivers, they would be taxed like people who make $70,000. This would amounts to a third of their take-home pay going to taxes.

However, I argue that what hurts graduate students at Princeton hurts undergraduate students at Princeton. We have an interest in agitating for the interests of our graduate students. First, graduate students are our teachers, and we have a vested interest in the quality of our TAs. Second, as undergraduates, many of us will become graduate students and hence ought have an interest in our future prospects. Third, undergraduates helping the cause of graduates can engender student solidarity across the undergraduate-graduate divide, helping undergraduates’ causes as well as graduate students’ causes.

To begin, the overwhelming majority of students at Princeton will have to interact with graduate student preceptors at some point or another. Preceptors are our teachers, often taking the incredibly important roles of discussion leader and grader in our lives. We expect them to teach us well, take active interest, hold office hours; we expect a lot from graduate students. A class can be good or bad solely based on the ability and care of the preceptor in charge. We therefore have an interest in three things: first, ensuring that we have the access to the very best graduate students we can get. This includes making sure graduate students who teach well, but could not otherwise afford a graduate education, get non-taxable tuition waivers. Second, we want to avoid a drop in graduate student quality. We do not want graduate students distracted by problems that impact their lives as deeply as the graduate waiver problem. We cannot expect graduate students to give full attention to both their and our studies and classes if they are terrified about their income. Third, graduate student quality drops because fewer socioeconomically diverse preceptors will be available for our classes. Obviously rich grad students can remain graduate students without waivers, but the less well-off will suffer, denying Princeton the best selection from the entire socioeconomic ladder. Princeton undergraduates stand to lose if graduate quality drops.

It is not only the quality of preceptors that should concern undergraduates; rather, many undergraduates at Princeton also desire to become graduate students. Next to finance, consulting, and technology, graduate education is among the most popular graduate pathways. For many of us, it is not the conditions of grad school currently this year that really matter to us, but rather the conditions in one year, or two, or three. The dissolution of the tax-waiver for graduate tuition waivers is therefore a future threat that we must take the prescient approach to deal with now. We must take our future interests seriously.

There is more to be concerned about than just our future interests; there are also our interests right now. Because of those, undergraduates have an interest in promoting the interests of graduate students in general to form student solidarity. There are 5,232 undergraduates at Princeton University, with an additional 2,747 graduate students. Graduate students can thereby increase our bargaining power as a student body by roughly 50 percent. But why should graduate students take into account our needs as a student body if we do not take into account their needs as a student body? What more pressure can we bring to bear on the University and the nation if we work together as a coalition of aligned interests? We deserve it to ourselves to be aware of our older peers in graduate school and create a type of student consciousness, pushing for their agenda as they help us push for theirs. Undergraduates and graduates can work together for change, and ought to. A key issue is this tuition-waiver provision.

We have an interest in agitating for the interests of our graduate students. They are our teachers, they are our future, they are our colleagues. We must fight against the reform of graduate student taxation. One step can be to sign the petition: Princeton Graduate Student Petition Against Taxation of Tuition Waivers. The Republican graduate tuition waiver is an attack on academia, and it affects us too. Let us fight against it together.

Ryan Born is a junior in the philosophy department from Washington, Mich. He can be reached at rcborn@princeton.edu. 

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