In the rush to turn Binghamton University into a “premier public” institution, teaching assistants and graduate assistants are getting a raw deal.

That might not bother you too much if one recently gave you a bad grade, but it should. Binghamton University depends on its teaching assistants (TAs) and graduate assistants (GAs), but its new pay proposal, described below, doesn’t seem to show that.

TAs and GAs are graduate students — people who are striving to become world-class experts in a field of research they are passionate about. Nearly all of them are focused on making the world a better place — understanding Lyme disease (anthropology), studying sustainable energy (materials science) and more.

Many graduate students are invited to study at BU with the promise of a job as a TA or a GA. This work is intended to provide living expenses in exchange for doing the bulk of the day-to-day work of your undergraduate classes, such as teaching class sections and grading assignments and exams. Off the clock, grad students also publicly assist in promoting BU at conferences and help recruit undergraduate and other graduate students, in addition to spending hours on their own coursework and research that increases the profile of the university.

All of these TAs and GAs have bachelor’s degrees; many of them have master’s degrees. Yet they are paid relatively little — less than $14,500 per year on average. Mandatory fees deduct an additional $1,850 each year — about 13% of that stipend. Grad students in some BU departments make so little that they qualify for, and must use, federal benefits like SNAP (food stamps). The university expects graduate students to be okay with this, because we are passionate about our education. Simply put, our desire to learn grants BU dirt-cheap academic labor.

This is bad enough, but BU is about to make it worse. The new graduate student recruitment plan proposed by the administration promises to raise TA/GA pay—but only for NEW graduate students. This means that experienced TAs and GAs will be doing the same work as the new ones for $2,000-$7,000 less per year. This unfair two-tiered pay scale has no logical justification and will alienate the existing grad student workforce—an experienced workforce that is instrumental in creating an educational environment that makes Binghamton University a “premier public” institution.

In a statement to WBNG last week, University spokesperson Ryan Yarosh reiterated the administration’s commitment to creating a two-tier stipend system in order to aid recruitment. Increasing stipends could be a positive improvement that furthers the goals of the university, but only if it is also extended to the graduate students who are already working diligently and conscientiously to keep BU a great place to go to college. A two-tiered stipend will lead to disillusioned graduate students, which is neither good for recruitment nor the quality of education offered at BU. It will certainly not foster an atmosphere of collaborative research and productive collegiality amongst the graduate students.

Unequal pay for equal work is unacceptable at BU. It is a shameful state of affairs. A “premier public” university cannot be built on the backs of an exploited and discarded workforce reduced to buying ramen with a credit card while the new teaching assistant across the hall pays cash at Social on State. If you agree, speak out. Email Provost Nieman ( and tell him that you support the graduate students in their quest to receive equal pay for equal work.


Katherine Lacy

(Department of Anthropology, GSEU Member)

Kellam Throgmorton

(Department of Anthropology, GSEU Member)