The New York Post published an article on Nov. 9 revealing that NYU’s tech-work program is currently supplying cheap labor for startup companies, paying graduate students only $10 an hour. Despite the fact that the students’ electrical engineering and computer programming skills enable the startups’ development, the students are compensated meagerly. NYU has been actively bargaining over pay with graduate students since February and has been accused of labor abuses on its campuses globally in the past.
Poly’s labor practices compromise the spirit of the global network university that the administration strives to foster. The New York Post piece focuses on the Polytechnic School of Engineering’s treatment of international students. The low wages for these students is particularly reprehensible. Most student visas prohibit students from working off-campus during their first academic year, limiting them to on-campus opportunities. It is on the backs of these vulnerable students that NYU seems to be cashing in.
Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order on Sept. 30 to increase the living wage of New York City workers from $11.90 to $13.13. This increase was intended to compensate for the high cost of living and fight growing income inequality. The fact that a worker at a fast food chain would earn over $3 more than a graduate student studying engineering is disconcerting. The mayor has recognized that $11.90 an hour is not enough for a New York City resident to live on. It is troubling that NYU administrators believe otherwise — or worse, are unaffected by this reality. Moreover, many of NYU’s students must take out crippling loans in order to cover their tuition costs, which is around $17,000 per semester for graduate students at Poly. NYU’s pitiful wage is only compounding the financial burden it places on international students.
In the Post article, NYU spokesman John Beckman dismissed the severity of the situation. “Our graduate assistants don’t all do the same things, and they aren’t all at the same level of graduate study,” he said. “Their unwillingness to acknowledge these differences is why … we still have made so little progress.” Beckman’s response sidesteps the issue. NYU aggressively promotes its global network. Celebrating diversity of geography while simultaneously mistreating international graduate students is depressingly hypocritical. These students are conducting cutting-edge research, work that has generated more than $250 million in economic activity through Poly’s Incubator initiative — their pay should reflect this.
A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 10 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]