In front of multimillion-dollar Gothic buildings and strolling undergraduates — some paying more than $75,000 a year in tuition — dozens of Duke doctoral students gathered on Labor Day to rally for higher wages.
As the price of rent and groceries continue to rise, Duke graduate students argue that the graduate school‘s minimum annual stipend, $31,600, is no longer livable in Durham.
A graduate student’s salary depends on a number of factors, including the department, the university’s base salary, and whether or not the student has an external scholarship. Duke’s graduate student union is trying to raise the graduate school’s minimum stipend to $40,000.
The living wage for a single childless adult in Durham is around $37,000 a year, according to a widely used study. living wage calculator from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Anita Simha, Ph.D. candidate for the biology department and co-chair of the Duke graduate student union, said low salaries have forced graduate students into precarious housing situations or out of Durham.
Jose Sanchez, who recently moved from New York to begin his Ph.D. in history at Duke, said he was shocked by the cost of rent in Durham.
“It’s at Brooklyn prices now,” Sanchez said.
Matthew Thomas, the union’s other co-chairman, said he was forced to break his lease after his rent went up by $500 a month.
In late June, the graduate school’s outgoing dean, Paula McClain, acknowledged this in an email to all graduate students.
“I know that the current inflation and local cost of living increases of recent years are affecting you all and causing serious concern to many,” McClain wrote. “The most obvious action is to increase the doctorate. allowances. This is the centerpiece of what we are working on. »
Duke promised a one-time payment
The doctoral school convened a working group which submitted a report on the subject to officials in August. University leaders are expected to make a decision on specific actions by the end of September, McClain said in the email.
They also promised a one-time payment of $500 to all doctoral students. students in October to meet the rising cost of living.
For Simha, who uses the pronouns they and them, the university’s response felt like a series of empty promises aimed at appeasing the union.
“Duke tried to give us this $500 to appease us, shut us up, but we’re smarter than that,” they said. “We have a doctorate. students here at Duke – we know $500 isn’t enough.
John Zhu, a spokesperson for the graduate school, said the university has taken other steps to ease the burden of inflation, such as increasing its funding for childcare grants, medical expenses and the community pantry.
Simha led the group in a chant, “Hey Duke, enough is enough, you can’t shut us up with $500.”
Simha said a floor of $40,000 was not unreasonable, given that Brown University, a comparably endowed university with a similarly priced district, recently agreed pay each doctorate. applicant at least $42,000 per year.
Several doctorates. applicants also expressed frustration with how the graduate school inconsistently sent paychecks. For PhD candidates without a safety net, even slight delays in payment can threaten their ability to pay for meals.
During Sanchez’s recent move, he said he had to withdraw $45 from his bank account in order to store his belongings and buy a bus ticket to North Carolina. He was counting on his first check from college for the end of August. Five days later, the check had still not arrived in the mail.
“I couldn’t afford to eat,” he says. “I had to ask roommates for beans and rice.”
Teddy Rosenbluth covers science for The News & Observer in a post funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The N&O retains full editorial control of the work