It’s been quiet on campus as we enter examination time, but in Washington, the difficult and complex task of reconciling GOP’s Senate and House tax plans has begun. Protest continues as we wait with considerable anxiety what will be the outcome–not least the proposed tax on graduate student tuition waivers. The Senate version did not include such a tax and 30 House Republicans have aired their opposition to this provision in their own bill. Fiona Doyle, Dean of the Graduate Division, and Chancellor Carol Christ have distributed a detailed assessment of the situation. In the meantime, at UC Davis, graduate students have been encouraged to make sure they register this year for the next quarter to avoid having to pay any possible tax for the upcoming term.
The Senate held its forum on free speech last Monday, December 4. Professor Judith Butler presented a nuanced critique of free speech absolutism, reasserting BFA’s position. You can read it here. At the same time the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) put out an important report on the assault on science perpetrated against climate change research and foreign scholars. The academic community is slowly waking up to defend its future.
Chair of the BFA
Thirty-one Republicans in the House sent a letter to the GOP leadership last week urging them to ensure a tax on graduate student tuition is left out of the party’s tax plan. In the letter, the lawmakers, all of whom voted for a version of the bill which included the tuition tax, wrote, “A tax on graduate tuition waivers would be unfair, would undermine our competitive position, and would inhibit the economic growth that tax reform promises.” In a letter to the campus community, UC Berkeley’s leadership urged students to contact their congressional delegation about the proposed tax on tuition.
In other news, a Berkeley student published an op-ed in the conservative Washington Examiner bemoaning the state of free speech on campus. While he noted campus leaders often say the right thing, he contends the practice of “shouting down” exercised by student activists undermines free speech.
12/7 – House Republicans May Be Backing Away From Taxing Grad-Student Tuition Waivers (Chronicle): Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, is quoted as saying, “Instead of penalizing students who want to get ahead and gain an edge in their fields, we should be providing them more opportunities to be successful.”
12/6 – Arrests, Anger, Anxiety as Grad Students Visit Paul Ryan’s Office (IHE): Nine student protestors were arrested for their action outside the Speaker’s office.
12/8 – About That Tuition-Waiver Deduction for Graduate Students (NationalReview): The article by the mainstream conservative magazine is critical of graduate tuition’s tax-exempt status, but notes it’d be easy for universities to reclassify graduate tuition as a scholarship, which is not taxed under any version of the GOP bill.
12/10 – Op-Ed: I go to UC Berkeley and I’m watching free speech slip away (WashingtonExaminer): The author urges activists not to use terms like fascist and alt-right as blanket insults for those one disagrees with.
12/6 – Letter from UC Berkeley Leadership:
To: Students; Faculty; Staff
Right now, Congress is considering tax reform proposals that would harm the financial security of students and their families, and threaten the research, education, health care, and public service missions of universities. Numerous provisions would make higher education more expensive and less accessible, with considerable negative financial impact on the University of California and our students, faculty, staff and retirees.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) proposes changes to the U.S. Tax Code that would have devastating impacts on students. These changes include:
taxing individual students for tuition paid on their behalf by universities as a benefit of employment (e.g., for GSI and GSR appointments),
repealing the interest deduction for student loans borrowed for undergraduate or graduate studies, and
repealing other tax credits that reduce the costs of post-secondary studies to individuals and families.
The House Education and Workforce Committee recently released the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act which would limit the amount that graduate students could borrow and end the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, among other provisions.
In all, the proposed changes would dramatically increase the cost of higher education, increase student debt, and discourage aspiring students who struggle to finance their continuing education. UC has prepared a helpful analysis here, and one of Berkeley’s own graduate students has prepared an excellent analysis of the likely impact of H.R. 1.
Although the Senate’s version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act does not include some of the most harmful proposals included in the House of Representative’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1), the University of California is on record as opposing both proposals in their current forms, as is the American Association of Universities and other leading groups. The American Council of Education has prepared an excellent summary and FAQ on the two bills.
The two versions are now in the “reconciliation process” of a joint Congressional Conference Committee, which aims to complete its deliberations in the next week or two. The time to act is now. It is vital that concerned constituents voice their opposition to their Congressional representatives without delay.
Senate members of the Conference Committee will be announced soon. House members of the Conference Committee are: Conference Chair: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX); Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA); Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL); Rep. Diane Black (R-TN); Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD); Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT); Rep. Don Young (R-AK); Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR); and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL).
Those who oppose this legislation and reside in the districts of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) are especially enc ouraged to relay to them your own stories of accessing education or supporting students.
Those of you who come from states outside of California are encouraged to contact Congressional representatives from your home states. For contact information, please see How to Contact Your Elected Officials.
Thank you for your engagement. I cannot overemphasize the importance of making our voices heard now.
Fiona M. Doyle
Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division