Loyola Students Hold Rally in Response to GOP Tax Bill

Noah Johnsen | The PHOENIXSeveral dozen graduate students, faculty and undergraduates protested the Republican tax bill and graduate student workers' rights on campus Dec. 4

A group of Loyola faculty, graduate and undergraduate students held a rally on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus (LSC) Dec. 4 in protest of the House and Senate tax plan.

More than 50 attendees gathered at the Cudahy Life Science Building Monday morning. The reconciliation of the Republican-led House and Senate’s tax bills follows President Donald Trump’s 2018 fiscal budget, which includes major increases in military spending and cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department.

The executive branch and Congress have vowed to pass a new tax reform by the end of 2017, with the new policies taking effect in 2018 — reconciliation is a process that speeds up the budget approval process, allowing the tax reform to be passed with only 50 votes rather than the typical 60 votes, The PHOENIX reported.

The Senate bill was narrowly passed Dec. 2 in a 51-49 vote. Both the Senate and the House bills put limits on state and local tax deductions. Illinois Representative Peter Roskam voted in favor of the bill and said it would create 37,000 new jobs over the course of a decade, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Tenets of the House plan include taxing on graduate student tuition waivers as if they were income, as well as slashing tax deductions for students paying back student loans usually the amount of interest an individual can pay back per year is deducted from taxes.

A semester’s tuition for graduate students costs around $17,000 at Loyola.

Ella Wagner, a third year Ph.D student in the history department, said she receives a $20,000 stipend over a nine-month period through her Loyola fellowship, and also has her tuition waived. With the tax bill counting the waived amount as income, Wagner said she would be taxed roughly three times of what she actually brings home.

“A lot of [graduate students], maybe me included, would have to drop out [of Loyola] because we wouldn’t be able to pay the tax burden,” Wagner said.

Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney sent a letter via email Dec. 3 in response to the tax plan released the previous Saturday. In her letter, Rooney stated her disapproval for the tax bill and support for higher education.

“We will continue to advocate against any legislation that makes higher education more expensive for students,” Rooney wrote. “We believe it is possible to offer tax relief in a way that does not increase costs or make a quality higher education less accessible,” the letter read.

Signs, speeches and slogans at the rally expressed the impact the GOP tax plan would have on graduate students’ livelihood. Protesters argued the passing of the Senate bill Dec. 2 was rushed, and that its policies would negatively affect them.

The rally was a mixture of members of Loyola’s non-tenured faculty union and graduate student union and individuals from the Loyola Worker Coalition, which joins undergraduate students and tenured faculty.

Students and faculty members spoke at the rally about the impact the bill will have on those in higher education.

Loyola history professor Ben Johnson said he thinks higher education is important for creating economic opportunity and the tax plan will undermine this group in particular.

“America is virtually controlled by individuals who are unsatisfied with the vast amounts of material wealth that they already have,” Johnson said.

Adjunct English professor and co-chair of the College of Arts and Sciences Alyson Paige Warren said Loyola’s treatment of unions is part of the struggle. As an adjunct professor, she holds positions at multiple universities to make ends meet.

The graduate student union at Loyola was denied recognition by the university in October, as the administration considers graduate students as assistants and not employees even though they receive a stipend and are not allowed to hold outside jobs, the PHOENIX reported.

Graduate assistants perform duties such as grading assignments, preparing lectures, facilitating labs and study groups, distributing and proctoring exams and teaching classes.

“[Adjunct faculty], too, are still paying off student loans, and [adjuncts], too, do not have the additional income to handle that,” Warren said. “[They don’t] have that additional income [because] Loyola is refusing to bargain in good faith with its [adjunct] faculty members and give them the union contract that could turn their poverty wages into a living wage.”

After hearing from the speakers, the rally marched south to the Office of the Provost in Burrowes Hall. Protesters vocalized a list of demands at the entrance of the building.

They demanded the bill be more transparent, its passing slowed down and that a more equitable and just tax bill be established. The group also demanded the university provide them an answer in six days of whether or not the graduate student union would be further negotiated with and recognized. They announced plans to regather and march again Dec. 10.

Robbie Duncan, 30, an adjunct professor of philosophy at Loyola and a member of the non-tenured faculty union, said he attended the protest to stand in solidarity with graduate students.

“The [tax plan] would essentially make going to graduate school prohibitive for the people who can’t readily afford it,” Duncan said.

Ruby Oram, a fifth year Ph.D student and a teacher in the history department, said she is far enough in her program to take out a loan to finish her degree, but the larger issue is that the tax plan affects higher education in general.

“[The tax plan] affects my entire career plan … if I get a faculty position [after finishing at Loyola], there won’t be any graduate students to teach if that part of the tax bill goes through,” Oram said.

Loyola senior Ugochukwu Okere, 21, said he attended the rally to support graduate students. Okere said the impact on graduate students also matters to undergraduate students.

“Undergrad students need to understand that when our [teaching assistants] are overworked [and] they’re underpaid, that’s going to affect us directly because we won’t be able to get the services that we need in class [and] the instruction that we need,” Okere, a social work and political science double major, said. “It’s understanding that our struggles truly are interconnected.”

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