UI COGS holds protest to increase graduate employee wages

Approximately 100 people gathered around the Pentacrest to advocate for increased wages for students at the UI.


Matt Sindt

A speaker talks during a COGS protest on the Old Capitol steps Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Assistant Digital Editor

The University of Iowa’s Campaign to Organize Graduate Students held a protest against low student wages on the Pentacrest Thursday at noon. 

About 100 people gathered in the campus’ center, circling around the Old Capitol Building with hats, gloves, and scarves to defend against the cold. The protest lasted around an hour. 

Protesters held signs that read “We don’t consent to 1.3 percent” and “All I want for Christmas is a real raise,” among others. 

Hannah Zadeh, president of COGS, said the protest was held to advocate for an increase in graduate employee wages. 

They said the state Board of Regents plans to offer a one-to-three percent raise for graduate employees, which does not meet the rising rate of inflation in the U.S. 

“We need a raise of above and beyond cost of living for it to be a real raise,” Zadeh said. “Anything less than that is a pay cut.”

Wage bargaining takes place in the spring, so Zadeh said the purpose of the protest was to call attention to these issues before meeting with the regents. 

The protest consisted of several speakers, including members of COGS, graduate and undergraduate students, and faculty members at the UI.

Caleb Klipowicz, a member of COGS and organizer of the protest, said the university is falling behind the other Big Ten universities in terms of student wages. He said that, comparatively, the UI is lacking in both student pay and benefits.

At the University of Minnesota, the minimum pay for all student employees is $15. Starting in 2023, the minimum wage for students at the University of Illinois will be $13. 

Infographic by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan

At the protest, COGS organizers handed out infographics with data showing the wage increases that the UI administration received from fiscal 2021-22. 

The raises for each figure range from three to eight percent. UI President Barbara Wilson, Vice President Kevin Kregel, and other administrations were included in the graphic.

Infographic by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan

Postcards were also distributed, with COGS organizers informing attendees to fill out the sheet that would be later sent to the regents. The postcard states that “campus workers deserve real raises” and has a blank section for individual comments. 

Andrea Smith, a second-year graduate student at the UI in the department of sociology and criminology, attended the protest after learning about the proposed 1.3 percent wage increase. 

Smith said there are people in their department who recently had children, and while their department has been understanding, they said other departments on campus are not as lenient when it comes to parental leave and sustainable stipends for parents. 

“The whole raise situation is also connected to reproductive rights,” Smith said.

Beyond increases in wages, protesters and organizers also called for the regents to offer adequate health care and child care services for graduate students. 

In the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, some speakers called for support from the regents to protect equal access to abortion in Iowa City. 

Lina-Maria Murillo, assistant professor in the UI’s history department, spoke of her own experience starting a family while pursuing a graduate degree. 

Murillo said she had over $150,000 in debt to afford child care while still in school. Murillo said debt will follow her and her family for the rest of their lives. 

“I’m here to ask us to bring the labor movement back into reproductive justice,” she said. 

Several other speakers who are faculty members at the UI discussed their experiences throughout their graduate careers. 

Megan Knight, associate professor in the UI’s rhetoric department, said while the issue of pay seems like a never-ending cycle, it is important to continue fighting for fairness and equality.

“We know they can do it. We know they can give us meaningful raises. We know they could help us keep up with incredible skyrocketing costs,” Knight said. “We know they have it. They keep telling us they don’t.”

Editor’s Note: In a previously published version article, the percent increase for UI officials was ranged from nine to 15 percent. The actual range is from three to eight percent. The DI regrets these errors.