Columbia Grad Students Receive Additional Benefits

Following a nationwide push from for more graduate students benefits, Columbia University administrators announced Tuesday new policies of paid parental leave, childcare subsidies, and reduced fees for Ph.D. students.

The broad changes were introduced to standardize benefits for Ph.D. students across Columbia’s graduate schools. Beginning next fall, current parental leave and childcare benefits will be extended to all Ph.D. students in any graduate program, according to Columbia’s Graduate Student Advisory Council.

In January, Harvard also unveiled new benefits for its Ph.D. students, announcing it will now provide students with a 50 percent discount for MBTA passes. A month later, GSAS said it would double the leave time and stipend for adoptive and expectant parents, from six to 12 weeks and from $3,100 to $6,264, respectively.

The Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers, a graduate student unionization effort, had pushed for such benefits for more than two years. Their movement is similar to a graduate student union effort at Harvard, which has amped up its activities since going public last spring. On its Facebook page, the Columbia group posted an all caps “VICTORY.”

Columbia’s new benefits include 12 weeks of paid parental leave and a $2,000 subsidy for each child under five.

At Harvard, union organizers garnered majority support for their effort among graduate students employed by Harvard in February. The University opposes the union effort, arguing that a union would change the relationship between the school and it students from one based in academics to one based in labor. In March, Harvard filed a joint amicus brief to the National Labor Relations Board with its peer institutions against graduate student unionization. The NLRB will soon decide if private institutions must recognize democratically elected graduate student unions.

When Harvard’s GSAS announced its new benefits, Dean for Student Affairs Garth O. McCavana said the improvements were prompted by a reassessment of the current benefits and by engaging more with graduate students.

Harvard has experienced similar issues regarding the standardization of student benefits. GSAS administers all Ph.D.s across the University, so all doctoral candidates receive guaranteed tuition, healthcare coverage, and a stipend. Beginning next fall, the five Doctor of Science programs at the School of Public Health will be brought under a unified Ph.D. program, and those students will receive the same benefits as doctoral candidates in GSAS.

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at leah.yared@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.

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