Twitter Thread on the #GradStudentTax

The following was a Twitter Thread I posted on Saturday, November 18th, 2017. I was asked to put it into one post for sharing. The post offers my advice for lobbying Congress on the proposed tax on graduate student tuition waivers.

As y’all know, I study higher ed lobbyists and used to work for one. A friend asked how I would lobby against the Graduate School Tuition Waiver Tax if I were still in the game. I thought about it, and here’s how I would tell students to oppose the #GradStudentTax.

First, I would shorten the name of the Graduate School Tuition Waiver Tax to the “Grad Student Tax.”

AKA: #GradStudentTax

Is it reductive? Yes. Does it get the point across? Also, Yes.

The next thing I would do is get grad students in the following states to start calling their GOP Senators:

Utah – Sen. Hatch – (801) 524-4380

Iowa – Sen. Grassley – (515) 288-1145

Idaho – Sen. Crapo – (208) 334-1776

Kansas – Sen. Roberts – (913) 451-9343

Wyoming – Sen. Enzi – (307) 772-2477

Texas – Sen. Cornyn – (512) 469-6034

South Dakota – Sen. Thune – (605) 334-9596

North Carolina – Sen. Burr – (800) 685-8916

Georgia – Sen. Isakson – (770) 661-0999

Ohio – Sen. Portman – (614) 469-6774

Pennsylvania – Sen. Toomey – (717) 782-3951

Nevada – Sen. Heller – (702) 388-6605

South Carolina – Sen. Scott – (803) 771-6112

Lousiana – Sen. Cassidy – (225) 929-7711

Why those states? Those are the states that GOP members of the Senate Finance committee represent. When the House and Senate Bills are reconciled, these are the people who will be doing the reconciling. You want the #GradStudentTax gone in the final bill.

I would then tell anyone who plans on calling their Senators to express opposition to the #GradStudentTax in the kindest way possible. In short, keep your cool when talking to Senate staffers. You’re a lot more likely to get your message across if you are kind.

After that, I would tell grad students opposed to the #GradStudentTax to write and submit op-eds to the newspaper that covers your local area or an area you can claim as “home.” These newspapers might include:

UT – Deseret News/The Salt Lake Tribune

IA – Des Moines Register

ID – Idaho Statesman

KS – Kansas City Star

WY – Wyoming Tribune Eagle

TX – Houston Chronicle

SD – Argus Leader

NC – Raleigh News and Observer/Charlotte Observer

GA – Atlanta Journal Constitution

OH – Columbus Dispatch

PA – Philadelphia Inquirer

NV – Las Vegas Review-Journal

SC – The State

LA – New Orleans Times-Picayune

I guarantee that someone on each of those Senators’ staffs reads the local newspaper cover to cover every day. You want the #GradStudentTax to be on their minds.

I would then caution #GradStudentTax opponents against is hitting the streets – protest style. For some of these Senators protest will only fuel the narrative that grad students are privileged, elite, liberal snowflakes in their ivory tower. While that is incredibly unfair, that is how some Senators will see your impassioned speech. Instead, this is a great time to use the skills you’ve learned in academia. By now, you have spent so much time as a grad student learning how to write. Use those skills – write emails, letters, op-eds, etc. There is a place for open protest, but the written word is much stronger than any picket sign or chant when it comes to the #GradStudentTax.

Most importantly, keep your eye on the prize – finishing your research/dissertation/thesis etc. If this bill will cripple your ability to go to grad school, do all you can to finish before it gets enacted. We need citizen-academics to change the world with their research. That is a lot harder to do if the #GradStudentTax forces you to quit before you get “PhD” at the end of your name.  Do all you can to finish, and do so ASAP.

Lastly, I would tell #GradStudentTax opponents stay out of the way of the universities and other organizations that are fighting on your behalf. If you are in graduate school, chances are your university has a lobbyist who is fighting tooth and nail for your future. Don’t get in your lobbyist’s way by being mean to Senators or their staff. Your lobbyists need to draw on good relationships they’ve spent years building in order to do their jobs. Don’t tie one hand behind their backs just because you are (understandably) angry.

That’s how I would tell Grad Students to oppose the #GradStudentTax if I was still a lobbyist. But I’m not, so I defer to actual university lobbyists who do incredible work. If you hear something different from them, listen to them. Trust me, they know what they are doing.


Point of Clarification: The Senate Bill currently does not include the #GradStudentTax – and we want to keep it that way. When you call/write your Senators, please thank them for not including the #GradStudentTax in the bill. 

Update (11/27/2017): The Los Angeles Times asked me to write an essay about the #GradStudentTax. You can find that essay on their website here, or in .pdf form here

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