Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Financially burdening grad students is a threat to knowledge

Graduate students are notorious for being overworked from the long hours they spend studying, researching and teaching. But through this rigor, they serve an important role in academia, contributing to a pool of knowledge that is necessary in advancing our society.

Recently, the House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill that would add to the existing financial burdens on graduate students. The GOP tax plan approved by House members earlier this month considers tuition waivers provided by universities as taxable income — meaning the stipend students receive for services like teaching and conducting research will now be subject to taxation. Graduate students across the nation have responded with outrage. Harvard University graduate students actually took to the streets Wednesday, protesting this bill that would gravely affect their livelihoods.

Graduate students are an integral resource in keeping universities afloat. They are responsible for much of the research and teaching done at top-tier universities. In order for these universities to stay competitive, they must generate noteworthy and influential research, and students are a key part of these results.

Most Boston University graduate students will not be affected by the plan, as the university funds them through scholarships rather than tuition waivers. Nevertheless, our peers across the river, and many others throughout Boston, may not be as fortunate in dealing with the implications of this bill, especially if it is passed in the Senate and made into law.

Students pursuing higher education aren’t just hoping to pad their resumes with impressive credentials or glowing recommendations. Rather, they are in search of a more noble pursuit — knowledge. In an age where it seems all everyone is after is a well-paying job, graduate students sacrifice the security of a job all in the name of continuing their education. They go beyond just adding a few more letters to the end of their names, and actually do a great service to society. The knowledge graduate students cultivate, whether it be in research labs or in classrooms, fuels intellectual discourse, prompting the invention of new technologies that allow societies to flourish.

The bill could not be construed in any other way than an attack on knowledge. But this is not an isolated instance in which this country’s fundamental tenets have been threatened. Attacking academics is a policy consistent with several other measures enacted by the Trump administration. Clearly, they come from a place of ignorance or complete disregard. Decisions and appointments related to the field of education have proved to be disappointing to the public, including scholars, teachers and those who value the importance of learning.

Another consequence of this bill, besides hindering progress and change in the nation, is the potential widening of the wealth gap in America. The class divide in the United States is a troubling issue, and one that worsens with the passage of legislation like this. Because this plan would be especially burdensome for students from lower-income backgrounds, these people may be discouraged from ever pursuing higher education. Students from more affluent backgrounds would have the financial resources to attain a graduate degree, leaving those who don’t have such resources unable to pursue higher education.

If degrees can only be earned by primarily rich students, these students will subsequently control the creation of knowledge. Not only would this be unfair, but it would also result in bad knowledge. In general, any one group controlling the creation or distribution of knowledge can be devastating to the quality of information. A variety of perspectives, contributed to by a plurality and diversity of people, is essential for making a pool of sound and balanced intellect. Simply put, the control of knowledge in one group’s hands is a scary phenomenon, and one that would not bode well for future generations.  

It is healthy and reassuring to see students taking action on this issue. While they could easily fall into the trap of dismissing these consequences, students view these claims as something that could very seriously jeopardize their futures. We can only hope that this bill will be blocked in the Senate, as such a bill would only serve to devastate graduate students, for whom we rely upon for a variety of services and most importantly, for producing knowledge.

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