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Letter to the editor: Grad students need a living wage to succeed


Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

By Stephen Voyce, Iowa City

A response to Adria Carpenter’s article, “Use of the UI food pantry is up, with international students disproportionately relying on the support

For the past three years I’ve served as the Director of Graduate Studies in the English department at the University of Iowa. During this time, our department was selected to participate in a nationwide initiative to transform graduate education. This coincided with a pandemic that tested the resiliency of educators to deliver advanced education under restrictive conditions.

Still, the lessons we’ve learned and the plans we’ve implemented include more experiential learning via internships, better exposure to alternative careers outside of traditional academia, and more flexible accommodations for those with disabilities and mental health challenges. These and many other proposals are improving the quality of graduate education.

Yet, as I reach the end of my three-year term as DGS, I have one recommendation above all others for improving the education of grad students: pay them a living wage.

The standard funding package in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is $20,600. With surging rents, rising food costs, and an 8 percent inflation rate, increasingly it is hunger and housing security — not assignment deadlines and comprehensive exams — that are the most significant issues for Ph.D. students. It’s no wonder that more graduate students are relying on the University’s food pantry. The statistics are sobering. Of the staggering 240,00 pounds of goods it has distributed, 90,000 has gone to graduate and professional students. That’s 38 percent of all donations for a population that comprises only 25 percent of the student body.

We tend to separate quality of life concerns from the quality of education, but these two areas are deeply connected. No one disputes the idea that an elementary or high school student cannot excel at their studies if they are hungry. There is absolutely every reason to apply this same logic to those in higher education.


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