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Graduate perspective on library fees

Emily Lady, Staff

Graduate students currently do not pay any library fees.

Open up the wallets for another fee, grads. The university has proposed an $85 library fee for graduate students to raise $247,000 for library services and journal collections. This is more than just another fee; it’s a prime example of how the university devalues graduate students.

It’s no secret that graduate students use a significant portion of library services: 83 percent of interlibrary loans and 41 percent of hardcopy circulation. Access of journal databases is significantly more skewed to graduates, which makes sense—we’re here to do research. I’m a fourth-year Ph.D. student, and for the past four years, I’ve dedicated myself to both research and to the graduate school.

Undergraduates often assert, “But you’re a student too!” I know. We are technically students because we take classes. We are required to take a minimum nine hours a semester to qualify as full-time.

But, we’re so much more than just students. We are one of the largest teaching forces on campus. Consider how many labs you’ve taken and will take that are taught by grad students. Then, think of all the labs that you don’t need to take, also all taught by grad students. That doesn’t even include grading tests from lecture classes and occasionally lecturing as well. If we just stopped teaching, Clemson would have to hire over 300 additional full-time faculty members to cover those labs, at a much greater cost than what grad students are paid. In addition to teaching we are required to conduct competitive research off the clock.

Let’s add up a graduate student workweek. Nine hours of classes, six hours of teaching, three hours grading, 10 hours of research a day for six days a week—that’s 74 hours a week dedicated to the university at minimum. That’s not including any time commitments to clubs, athletics or groups like Graduate Student Government. Even though we work far beyond 40 hours per week, we love our research. That’s why we agree to teach for dirt pay. Every night, there are Clemson graduate students in the lab pushing the boundaries of their field.

Instead of burdening students with the bill, Clemson might consider funding its own academic resources. One of the hardest aspects of being a graduate student is living off our stipends. The national average for teaching assistant stipends is $20,922 per year. Clemson pays TAs on average $17,156 per year, woefully less than our peer institutions. Those stipends are reduced every semester by ever-increasing administrative fees, which bring our salaries closer to $13,500.

Graduate school is our job. Many graduate students are married and have kids. Stipends are how they buy groceries, pay rent and even fund their research. Many are also paying undergraduate student loans, stretching small budgets even further. Without fees, one could argue graduate students make about $4.50 an hour. With the current academic fees, that drops to $3.50 an hour—and that’s not including taxes. The summer is especially difficult because many graduate students don’t get paid for over three months. Even though we are still working every day, it’s easier for the university cash flow if we get paid nine months a year. So, hopefully grad students are OK at saving money during the school year, because many of us have no income for three months.

Clemson has grown too fast, with little regard for current academic infrastructure leading to issues like an underfunded library. Fact: Clemson has not increased library collection funding for five years while inflation and demands for increased research collections have caused the libraries to reduce collections. This is unacceptable. 

Where was the foresight? Clemson has the money to contribute to fund the library; more than a billion dollars were used for brand new buildings that will mostly serve the undergraduate experience. So, why not throw some of that “upwards and onwards” money towards a crippled library system? The $247,000 the Graduate Library Fee will raise is a spit in the bucket. Certainly they plan to address some of the stipend and healthcare issues in the ClemsonForward, right? This plan needs to include more support to our libraries’ services to help ALL students achieve even greater success. Clemson takes 50 percent of all grants obtained from graduate research, and zero percent of that university-allocated research grant funding goes to library services. Where is that money going?

Graduate students dedicate their lives to the university. Our recent upgrade to Research 1 status could not have been possible without our dedication to research. Clemson isn’t “rewarding top students” by adding a new fee. Clemson is burdening the people that are trying to make it a nationally competitive and better institution. Prospective graduates will not be drawn to a university that has an underfunded, outdated library they have to subsidize.

Clemson will not attract top students in this way, and it’s a poor way to build competitive academic programs. This fee isn’t a long-term fix. It’s a cop-out and a Band-Aid. It’s a cheap excuse to squeeze a few more dollars out of the very people that have elevated Clemson research to where it is today. For that, we feel slighted. From our perspective, we sometimes qualify as employees, but other times we are considered students, seemingly to the benefit of the university.

This isn’t a student fee issue, but an institution issue. We need more administration support for the graduate school. Grads, we are not going to get these things if we don’t talk about it. We need to tell the people that matter that we need a change. Write a letter, send an email, go to administrators’ offices and stop them on the street.

If Clemson truly wants us to contribute to “the future of the state, the nation and the world,” they can start by not handcuffing us with these fees, and put forth a concerted effort to making drastic

improvements to the graduate student experience. If Clemson disagrees, then we might consider putting an asterisk next to Clemson’s “commitment

to research.”

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