NMSU graduate students are still struggling

LAS CRUCES — New Mexico State University graduate students came to a Board of Regents meeting to voice their concerns, emphasize their desire for a tuition rebate, and announce their intention to unionize.

On Monday, about 30 graduate students gathered outside the Educational Services building on campus, where the regents held a regular meeting.

“We are here to lobby the board, the university, and show them that we deserve tuition coverage just as much as the people at our peer institutions,” said graduate student Matt Varakian. in fourth year astronomy involved. in the union effort, as he addressed the crowd of students. “We deserve health coverage. We deserve higher salaries. Compared to our peer institutions, other R1 institutions (universities doing top research), we’re pretty much at rock bottom. It’s pitiful . It’s abysmal. NMSU really just didn’t do much to give us good working conditions.”

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It has been nearly a year since 60% of NMSU graduating students signed union cards to seek legal recognition. Since then, a lot has changed. The NMSU Labor Relations Board was disbanded, leaving the fate of the graduate union to the state labor board. There were multiple demonstrations.

This is the second time a group of graduates have spoken at the public comment portion of a regents meeting – the first having been in December. In both cases, the students asked for the support of the regents in their efforts to organize.

Graduate students came out carrying signs to the New Mexico State University board meeting on Monday, March 14, 2022 to advocate for their union efforts and tuition remission.

On Monday, graduate students came out with a petition — signed by more than 1,100 people — calling for better working conditions. Students held up the petition printed on a large sign during public comments. Sixteen people spoke out in support of the graduate students, including four faculty members and two representatives from the University of New Mexico, whose graduates recently won union recognition.

“Basic form of support”

The core of the motivation to unionize includes three key points: salary, tuition rebate, and health care opportunities – all of which can be boiled down to the fact that workers who graduate from NMSU earn below-the-line wages. federal poverty after paying their tuition.

The average salary for a graduate worker is $11,851 per year after taking an average of $6,300 in annual tuition.

Many graduate students on Monday stressed the need for a tuition rebate, in which the university pays some or all of the tuition fees for employees.

“It’s becoming a pretty basic thing that’s offered to a lot of universities that don’t have unions,” Varakian told the Sun-News. “We are in a position where we have to unionize to try to get something that a lot of others have without a binding contract. There are a lot of universities that realize that this is a form of basic support, and they don’t need to negotiate contracts to provide it.”

Several students have publicly stated that the lack of a graduate student tuition rebate discourages prospective students from coming to NMSU.

New Mexico State University Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Ecology graduate student James Lee argues for tuition remission before the Board of Regents on Monday, March 14, 2022 .

Nelson Crane, a graduate student in the social work department, said he was required to take 15 credit hours per semester and work at least 16 unpaid hours per week in a work placement. He is also a graduate assistant at the Autism Diagnostic Center on campus.

“I love my job, and I love it here, but I’m not thriving,” Crane said. “I’m really in debt. Supporting GAs (graduate assistants) with tuition coverage is going to support our health, our well-being, our ability to thrive, our ability to kick-start our careers, and I don’t know why you I wouldn’t want that for us. We manage.

Crane, who grew up in New Mexico, said if he had known his tuition would have been covered at another university in another state, he would not have come to NMSU.

Varakian pointed out that the New Mexico Scholarship conditionally covers tuition and fees for undergraduate students at two- or four-year institutions of higher learning in the state.

“I will pay tuition to work here and teach people who come here for free,” Varakian said. “Nothing against undergraduates. Everyone should have the opportunity to seek an education at an affordable price, or better yet, for free.”

NMSU responds

The Regents were unable to respond to public comments from graduate students as the topic was not on the agenda.

The university assures that it listens to student complaints and issued a statement: “We always appreciate hearing from our university community. Regarding the issues raised today regarding our graduate students, it is something that NMSU has been working on for months, we believe we have made real progress in identifying possible solutions and we look forward to presenting this information to our stakeholders and working with them to find a solution.”

Report for America staff member Miranda Cyr can be reached at [email protected] or @mirandabcyr on Twitter. Show your support for the Report for America program at https://bit.ly/LCSNRFA.

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