Graduate Student Bill of Rights
Graduate students function within the university as both students and workers and deserve support and protections that speak to all aspects of graduate life. We claim these rights as foundational elements of a successful, supportive, and safe institution for graduate student workers: protected rights to which all workers should have access; the right to prioritize and protect personal health; the right to a work / life balance; the right to a professional environment that protects and fosters well-being and safety. All of the rights described below contribute to graduate students’ right to thrive - to move beyond survival throughout their programs and prioritize their health and development.
1. Right to unionize
Graduate student workers have the right to organize and unionize without interference, misinformation, harassment or discrimination.
2. Right to shared governance
Graduate student workers have the right to representation elected by the graduate student body (separate from student representatives appointed by the institution). Representatives should have influence on graduate students’ work environment, contracts (including benefits and stipends), institutional accountability mechanisms, and other issues the student body decides upon.
3. Right to engage in advocacy, lobbying, and debate without fear of reprisal
Graduate student workers have the right to engage in advocacy, lobbying, and debate without fear of formal (administrative) or informal reprisal. This includes activity within academic institutions (like student organizations) and outside institutions.
4. Right to privacy
Graduate student workers have the right to privacy, to work and study free from institutional (formal or informal) surveillance and harassment.
5. Right to freedom from discrimination, bullying, harassment, exploitation, violence, and sexual misconduct
Graduate student workers have the right to work and study free from discrimination, bullying, harassment, exploitation, violence, and sexual misconduct. This includes behavior at the institutional and individual level, from administrators, faculty, or other students. This may require multi-layered accountability mechanisms that address power dynamics at different institutional levels.
6. Right to third-party mediation and arbitration of grievances
When grievances are raised, graduate student workers have the right to third-party mediation and arbitration. This creates opportunities for grievances to be resolved and a safe environment to be pursued and helps the graduate student avoid leaving an institution to avoid continued harm to themselves. Layered institutional power dynamics make these necessary options to have structurally available to all graduate student workers.
7. Right of equitable access to employment and education for all marginalized groups
Graduate student workers have the right to equitable access to employment and education including and especially for students from marginalized groups or backgrounds. This includes but is not limited to groups marginalized on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic background, or documentation status.
8. Right to appropriate accommodations, protections, and dedicated support services for marginalized groups
Graduate student workers have different needs and experiences in equitably navigating funding and institutional services. Members of marginalized groups, whether on the base of race, ethnicity, religion, migrant or documentation status, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability, or other aspects historically marginalized) have the right to protections and dedicated support services specific to their needs and situations.
9. Right to compensation for additional labor done by students from marginalized backgrounds
Minoritized students are often asked to serve in institutional practices at higher rates than students who are not marginalized. This includes work on committees, in institutional advertising, additional (often unrecognized) labor in justifying their research orientation and methodologies, and other areas. Graduate student workers have the right to compensation for additional labor requested and performed due to their marginalization on different identity levels, as well as the right to decline additional work without fear of reprisal or retaliation.
Priority and Protection of Personal Health
10. Right to affordable, stable, and comprehensive healthcare
Graduate student workers have the right to affordable, stable, and comprehensive healthcare. This includes standard provisions for healthcare, as well as dental care, vision, and mental health care. Institutions should cover students and workers without interruption between academic years for the length of their program, whether or not the students take leave. Healthcare should not be cost-prohibitive to anybody, including international students. Institutions should provide notice to students and workers in advance of coverage cancellation for any reason.
11. Right to affordable, quality housing in the vicinity of their institution
Graduate student workers have the right to affordable, quality housing in the vicinity of their institution. Affordable housing describes housing that does not cost more than 30% of a graduate student worker’s institutionally offered income. Quality housing describes housing options that do not compromise a person’s health outcomes in the short or long term. A reasonable vicinity within the institution may depend on the public transportation options, parking and car ownership considerations, and weather realities of specific locations. If the only affordable housing requires car ownership, this should be factored into the 30% of annual stipend maintenance. Housing options must include affordable options that offer accommodations and meet accessibility needs for disabled students and do not discriminate against international students or students with specific work or criminal histories.
12. Right to family and personal leave and affordable child care
Graduate student workers have the right to family and personal leave, including parental leave, and affordable child care, with no formal or informal reprisal for using either. This includes medical leave, bereavement leave, care leave, parental leave, and other forms of personal and family leave. Disclosure of medical circumstances should not be required to individual faculty or co-workers to access. Family / personal leave is more likely to be taken by students of marginalized backgrounds and is incredibly important to protecting equitable access of marginalized students to program completion. Parental leave should be offered to parents whether they gave birth or not, and should include at least one semester of leave with additional semesters offered under consideration. Affordable child care describes full time childcare (approx. 40 hours a week) that does not exceed 7% of graduate student stipend / income (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
13. Right to a safe and healthy environment
Graduate student workers have the right to a safe and healthy environment in institutional work, learning, and living spaces, the standards of which are decided by the graduate student community. This includes but is not limited to clean air access (that meets CO2 and filtration standards according to federal and CDC codes) and environmental health, as well as public safety.
14. Right to fair hours
Within their programs, graduate student workers balance coursework, assistantships, teaching, research, fellowship requirements, mentorship, and institutional responsibilities. Combined, expectations of work can far exceed the normal work week with little accountability, and in some cases, institutional culture pushes narratives that graduate students should expect to maintain unreasonable workloads for the duration of their program. Workers should not have imposed responsibilities that exceed a standard work week (currently 40 hours in the U.S.). If there are times when responsibilities are expected to exceed this amount, additional compensation should be offered and the graduate student should have the right to turn down additional work with no reprisal.
15. Right to a living wage
Like all workers, graduate student workers have a right to a living wage. A living wage is described in terms and metrics of how much a single person living along needs to survive in a specific location. However, many graduate students will be in their programs between 2 - 7 years, throughout various stages of life that do not often describe a single person living alone. Graduate student workers should also be able to support children, provide care for family, and move through different stages of life without hardship or reprisal. The living wage of a single person living alone is the bare minimum that institutions should be providing. Adjustments for inflation and cost-of living adjustments should be built into stipend contracts and offered annually. Providing a living wage allows for graduate student workers to invest fully in their programs and protects their work-life balance when additional outside work is not needed for survival on top of heavy workload expectations.
16. Right to job security and stability
Graduate student workers have the right to job security and stability. Year-to-year contracts that do not describe the full length of the program leave workers in insecure positions and prohibit access to certain services that require proof of financial stability (like accessing a mortgage). Graduate programs should provide contracts that speak to the full length of the program and cover 12 month periods and not just 9 month contracts.
17. Right to retirement access
Due to the financial precarity that institutions build into their graduate programs, graduate students in the U.S. begin saving for retirement later and lose out on intense financial security as a result (Dr. Jason Anderson, Stanford). Beginning to save late for retirement impacts the entire life and work path of a graduate student and often requires academics to retire late. Institutions should either establish employer-sponsored retirement plans (like the 401(k) or the 403(b)) for graduate student workers or build in the maximum annual Roth IRA donation amount (currently $6,500 in the U.S.) on top of the offered stipend that meets living wage, housing, and childcare cost standards.
Professional Environment of Well-Being and Safety
18. Right to consistent and transparent academic and professional expectations
Graduate student workers have the right to consistent and transparent academic and professional expectations. As teaching, research, and administrative expectations can vary so widely between disciplines, departments, and institutions, transparency from the program and from faculty mentors (including advisors and committee members) is necessary for students to prepare and manage work-life balance and mental health.
19. Right to respect and recognition as productive scholars and employees
Institutional cultures that contribute to narratives of graduate student workers as “students only” or “students first” or as free or unending labor do active harm to students in their programs. Graduate student workers have the right to respect and recognition as productive scholars and employees.
20. Right to leave or transfer without professional retaliation
Graduate student workers have the right to leave or transfer from their programs honorably, without professional retaliation, harassment, or formal or informal reprisals within their institutions or the wider discipline.
21. Right to professional autonomy, self-determination, and academic freedom
Graduate student workers have the right to professional autonomy and self-determination in regards to their institutional paths, research agendas, and career trajectories. We have the right to academic freedom, to express ideas and conduct research without fear of reprisal, censorship, interference, or harassment.
22. Right to institutional transparency
Graduate student workers have the right to institutional transparency in regards to their program, department, college, governance, union, administration, and student-body relations. Transparent institutions provide information about their activities and governance to faculty and students that is accurate, comprehensive, and available in a timely manner.
23. Right to a high-quality education and professional mentorship
Graduate student workers have the right to a high-quality education that includes appropriate skills development and resources, that speaks to the teaching and research responsibilities graduate student workers face, and meets the expectations of its graduate students. We have the right to effective academic and professional mentorship, advising, and development. For many graduate students, this will require multiple options for healthy and effective mentorship within an institution if faculty positions change or as grievances arise.
24. Right to thrive
Graduate student workers have the right not just to survive in their programs, but to thrive: to have a work-life balance that supports long term mental health, family and social relationships, and a professional life that builds rather than compromises their self-esteem.