GEO calls for taxation change

By Sana Khadilkar, Staff Writer

Graduate assistants will face a tax on their waived tuition that will be deducted from their paychecks in December. This is a yearly tax that affects their paychecks at the end of the year. 

Internal Revenue Service Regulation 127 states that once a graduate employee’s waived tuition exceeds $5,250, it can be taxed. The tax is withheld from the income of graduate employees, said Robin Kaler, associate chancellor of public affairs.

Bruce Kovanen, co-president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, said teaching assistants and research assistants are exempt from this tax code, but graduate assistants are not.

“People see that impact in their paychecks, sometimes to the point where it’s a $0 paycheck where you work a month and then on payday, you get nothing, which is hard to manage with,” Kovanen said. “It’s a real struggle. It’s not sustainable. And not all universities look at it that way. It’s a university’s interpretation of that tax code.”

Hadrian Quan, graduate student in LAS and a math department steward for the GEO, said graduate students are already paid so little that the impact of the tax is tremendous. Students find it difficult to pay for their groceries, rent and utilities such as electricity, Quan said.

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“A lot of people I know who have been graduate assistants have had to find even second and third jobs, just to be able to live in town and do the work they do for the University,” Quan said.

Kovanen said the tax code originated because people would go to graduate school while not necessarily working at the University. Rather, they would be working at a company. The code taxed their waivers because they were not working at the University.

Currently, graduate assistants are getting their waivers taxed, and the GEO is trying to change this interpretation of the tax code due to the stress it puts on students’ lives, Kovanen said.

Kovanen said he hopes the University will change its interpretation of the tax code or divide the impact of the tax across several paychecks. He said other universities, such as Western Illinois, spread the tax burden across multiple paychecks so that graduate employees do not receive $0 paychecks at the end of the year.

The Western Illinois University’s website states the tax is applied to October, November and December checks for fall contracts, and applied to March, April, and May checks for spring contracts.

“The University’s inaction on this issue is a real problem, and that there are things they could do tomorrow that would make a really big impact in benefiting these people’s lives, and I hope they reconsider their stance and decide to help some people, because we’re not going to stop organizing around this until our members get a fair shake,” Kovanen said.

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