By James Buckser and Matthew Eadie
The Boston University Office of the Provost announced earlier this year that they will not be increasing PhD student stipends for the 2023-2024 academic year, which created discontent among many BU graduate student workers.
In a statement released Jan. 12, 2023, Daniel Kleinman, associate provost for graduate affairs, wrote that BU would not be increasing the academic stipend for the upcoming school year due to the “unusual action taken last summer,” citing a 4% increase to the PhD stipend during the summer of 2022.
Zara Albright, a third year PhD candidate, said that BU’s reasoning for not increasing the stipend this year is “disappointing.”
“Their argument for not giving it to us this year was that they gave us extra last year so we didn’t need anything this year,”Albright said. “It really just was a slap in the face, neglecting the reality of our conditions and all of that kind of stuff.”
Shalom Entner, a second-year PhD student and bargaining team member for the Boston University Graduate Workers Union, said she believes the University is not providing support because of the grad workers unionization.
“They’re withholding this normal wage increase, and this is what’s called an unfair labor practice with shifting the status quo,” Entner said. “Once we form a union, they’re not supposed to change the status quo according to the Labor Board international laws, and that’s what makes this an unfair labor practice.”
Kleinman said that “the University looks forward to negotiating in good faith with its graduate student union when the time comes.”
The BU Graduate Student Workers Union filed an unfair labor practice complaint to the National Labor Relations Board according to Meyia Sparks Lin, a first year PhD student and bargaining team member.
A petition on SEIU 509’s website says “we believe withholding such raises is a direct violation of Section 8(d) of the National Labor Relations Act, which requires the University to uphold the status quo until a collective bargaining agreement has been ratified.”
According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage calculator, $46,993 is the annual wage required to live in Boston, well above the $38,253 annual stipend BU provides to graduate students, or the eight-month $25,502 stipend.
Casey Grippo, a third-year PhD candidate and bargaining team member for the union, said Boston’s high living expenses are “troubling.”
“All the costs around me keep rising,” Grippo said. “But my pay and my ability to survive is not also rising.”
Grippo said part of making their stipend work is “putting things on credit cards and hoping for the best,” but also includes limiting “fun stuff,” like concerts and restaurants.
MIT pays their doctoral research assistants a 12-month salary and stipend of over $45,000 according to their website and the graduate employees of Northeastern University are requesting an increase of their 12-month stipends to $50,000 according to a statement released on February 8.
Without the pay increase, some graduate students have trouble stretching their stipends, according to Albright, while others got outside jobs to pay for rent and food.
“I don’t know how widespread it is,” Albright said. “I know that for the people who have to [get other jobs], it’s a huge time burden, it’s exhausting, you need to work more hours in a week, you can’t work as much on your research.”
Second jobs are not available for all BU grad workers, however, particularly for international students who can only work 20 hours a week and cannot work outside the University, according to Albright.
“There are a lot of formal restrictions on second jobs that we can have, myself and many other people that I know have second jobs in order to make ends meet,” Sparks Lin said. “It’s embarrassing for BU, frankly, that [many of us] are putting half of our income or more to our rent, or some grad workers are food insecure.”
Although there is not yet a set date for union bargaining to begin, union members are hoping for the best.
“It’s easy to lose sight of [our goal] sometimes just because we get so busy and so wrapped up in different things,” Entner said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all here for each other, and that’s really what drives us.”