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Grad Students Pushing for Rutgers University to Respond to Tax Bill in Congress

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers ​University ​graduate students are pushing the university president for assurance that he’d advocate for them against a potential tax-hike by Congress, which ​many argue ​could hit graduate students particularly hard.

The House of Representatives plan, which passed last week, would turn the tuition remission for graduate and teaching assistants into a taxable benefit.

Those students who work at the university, either as research assistants or by teaching classes, don’t in turn have to pay tuition.

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But under the House’s plan, a graduate student who made $30,000 for example, and received a $21,500 tuition remission, would be taxed as if they were making $51,500 a year.

Rutgers President Robert Barchi acknowledged that the plan could hit academia “particularly hard.”

“I can say that we’re not going to leave anybody hanging,” Barchi said at a recent town hall hosted by the Rutgers student government.

But the president added he wouldn’t discuss “hypotheticals,” noting that the U.S Senate’s tax bill was drastically different, and didn’t even include the ​controversial ​provision for graduate students.

"I’m not going to get into a discussion of what we are going to do​`​ if​'​,” Barch said, referring to any hypothetical situation with the tax plan. “Because that’s always counterproductive.”

S​ome​ graduate students who came to the Rutger student government’s November 16 town hall said they weren’t satisfied with Barchi’s response. During the question and answer period, students pushed him for a response they would consider more substantive.

“I think he was in a position to comment on that, even not knowing what the bill looks like,” said Austin Baker, a Ph.D candidate for philosophy.

Baker said that if the House’s version of the tax bill made it past President Trump’s desk, then she’d hope the university will help out graduate students, such as by lowering tuition, raising their pay, or offering more fellowships, TA-ship’s and GA-ship’s.

“These kinds of platitudes don’t look to me like much of a commitment,” Baker said.

Nathaniel Hobbs, a first year Ph.D candidate for machine learning, said he wanted Barchi to ​provide a more substantive response, at least on what he’s done so far to protect graduate students.

“I haven’t receive​d​ any emails from the university acknowledging this problem, or resources for us student to be able to fight this problem,” Hobbs said.

Barchi added that the university has been involved in lobbying efforts, and has also signed onto a letter by the American Association of Universities (AAU), along with some 60 universities across the country.

“We are really in high gear,” Barchi said.

But Hobbs still wasn’t entirely satisfied with the president’s response

“Is there going to be some sort of response to the student body to let us know what his position is?​"​ Hobbs asked.

“​W​e haven’t gotten anything.”

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