AUSTIN (KXAN) — Graduate student workers at the University of Texas are demanding more money from the university after claiming they weren’t being paid livable wages.

Members of Underpaid@UT held a rally outside the UT Tower on Tuesday. Shortly after, they held a “grade in” where they sat inside the Life Science Library and graded papers. The group also presented a letter with their demands to UT Provost Sharon Wood.

“I think a lot of people get here and then realize this is not a livable wage,” Joseph Rojas, a second-year master’s student in the Institution of Latin American Studies, said.

The group said the pay for graduate student workers varies from department to department.

“I saw that there are a lot of grad school students not making what I am making,” UT doctoral candidate Deepesh Verma said. “I make around $32,000 a year pre-tax, but there are students on campus making $19,500.”

Members of Underpaid@UT discuss the changes they would like to see moving forward. (Tim Holcomb/KXAN)
Members of Underpaid@UT discuss the changes they would like to see moving forward. (Tim Holcomb/KXAN)

Verma said grad school workers do more than just go to class. They are grading papers and working on research, which ultimately improves the image of the university.

“A lot of the students are taking on loans trying to take on part-time jobs to stay in the program and somehow make ends meet here in Austin,” said Verma.

Underpaid@UT is hoping to improve wages for grad school workers to $36, 317.

A spokesperson for the University tells KXAN:

“In September 2021, UT made the single-largest investment in graduate students in its history. That included $10.9 million in annually recurring funds to establish competitive salary minimums for half-time, nine-month positions. Many programs across campus far exceed these minimum salaries. The positions are also eligible for merit increases. These positions cover the cost of tuition for graduate students employed in academic positions. Also, the positions provide robust health insurance plans that mirror coverage of full-time employees.”

Brad Limov, a doctorate candidate in UT’s school of journalism and media, said he makes a livable wage, but he’s advocating for those who don’t. He said there is merit-based pay, which he has received, but not everyone receives this.

“There should still be money given if students have successes and accomplishments and do great things for the university, but that money should make it easier for students to continue to accomplish… not to just pay the rent,” Limov said.

UT said they are looking into ways to help improve housing for students.

“Housing affordability is a complex problem across the Austin area, and UT is constantly looking at ways to help our community members. As you probably know, UT has embarked on a strategy to acquire nearby property. UT’s total bed count is approximately 8,663, which includes Dobie and 2400 Nueces within two blocks of campus. In Fall 2023, 784 graduate units are scheduled to come online,” a UT spokesperson told KXAN.

“We want to be in a situation where anybody who aspires to obtain a higher degree can,” Limov said. “This should not be based on a person’s background or even their luck.”

Underpaid@UT said it conducted a survey on campus with more than 600 graduate students to find out how low wages were affecting students.

“People report that it reduces their academic performance, high levels of financial stress,” Rojas said. “We asked a question in our surveys: have you considered leaving… due to affordability and wages? Lots of people say they have.”

Rojas said, besides better wages and rent prices, they are hoping for better insurance coverage as well.

“We are getting a lot of reports of people having coverage gaps,” Rojas said. “They try to use the insurance and realize some things aren’t covered or it costs more now.”