Lend graduate students your support

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 5.12.06 PMEven the most skilled debater would have a hard time arguing the position that public research universities aren’t vital to the health of society.

This is especially true in Vermont, where UVM stands as the only public research university. The professional curiosity here that is cultivated, produced and shared with the world is fundamental to our very identity, and to our mission.

Yet if we don’t take action soon and support the graduate students who support this research, we will fail this mission.

As undergraduates, it’s easy to overlook the research side of our school, but it’s all around us. Professors are producing research constantly, and with over $120 million in funding for that research, its importance is validated by the American people through $100 million in federal funding.

Yet none of this research is possible without the people that help make it happen — graduate student researchers.

At the most recent board of trustees meeting, Devin Champagne, president of the Graduate Student Senate, put the struggles graduate students face squarely on the table.

After the recent sale of the Ethan Allen Apartments in Colchester — a popular and affordable option for the older students — many of them will be forced to face the Burlington housing market.

And it’s not the case that graduate students can necessarily afford housing. The base stipend for master’s and doctoral student teaching assistants is $24,000, well under a living wage for a single adult in Burlington, not to mention the families that some of these students need to help support.

Graduate students are an integral part of professors’ research. Many professors would not be free to teach the 10,000 undergraduates we have as well as they do without curious and able graduate students working in their labs and in the field.

It’s hard to be all those things when you’re worried about your housing situation, or if you need to take out yet another loan in order to keep food on the table.

Graduate students should be free — more free than undergraduates — to pursue their interests. It’s what they’re here for.

These are people who have gone through an undergraduate education and said “let’s do some more of this.” And they’re not simply doing this for the betterment of themselves and their education, but for the betterment of this University and the world beyond.

Graduate researchers who publish on behalf of the University should be proud to have their names next to UVM’s, and UVM should recognize the commitment they have to their research, especially when every paper published raises the profile of the University.

The administration should take steps to visibly support graduate students. They can start by raising the teaching assistant stipend. This is not a living wage.

These students deserve more and we owe it to ourselves and the greater community to support the excellence for which we so publicly strive.