When we fight, we win!

UPDATE: In April 2019, Duke announced their commitment to pay all PhD students a 12-month, 5-year stipend totaling beginning in 2022!

Duke’s decision to guarantee all PhD students a living wage, 12-month, 5-year stipend shows how powerful grad student workers are when we collectively advocate for better conditions. Members of the Duke Graduate Students Union have worked tirelessly for over a year to win a living wage for PhD students — meeting with the Academic Council, collecting hundreds of petition signatures, writing Chronicle op-eds, securing a GPSC resolution, and applying public pressure on campus and online. We consider this announcement an enormous victory for our campaign and a testament to the power of unions.

Gains often feel inevitable after we win them, but nothing about this gain was inevitable. Make no mistake: your work — our work — made this happen! A year ago, a written commitment from the University Provost and Dean of the Graduate School to meet all three of our pay campaign demands seemed unfathomable. Now, 12-month pay starting in August at a living wage is a reality. That didn’t happen because administrators thought it was a nice idea. It happened only because we organized, built power, applied pressure and made it a reality!

DGSU is very pleased that the university has committed to addressing low pay on Duke’s campus. As we all know, the university’s timetable to adopt a 12-month, 5-year living stipend by Academic Year 2022-2023 leaves out hundreds of current PhD students with children, medical expenses, debt and bills to pay. These exceptions are not insignificant. It’s possible that you feel frustrated or confused about aspects of this pay raise, specifically the delay and vagueness in its implementation. And justifiably so. Nonetheless, this decision demonstrates beyond doubt that we have the power to deliver material gains to PhD students at this university. We have the power to make real improvements in each other’s lives. This power is something to celebrate.

And it is something to build. Yesterday’s incredible and necessary change in PhD pay should impact as many members of the Duke community as possible. Yesterday’s gain lays the groundwork for our gains tomorrow. The Academic Provost and Dean of the Graduate School responded to our demands with a promise of at least $6 million toward graduate stipends. Imagine what we could win if we had twice as many members. Join us here.


The Duke Graduate Students Union has spent the past year collectively advocating for fair pay for all grad student workers at Duke. Currently, a gap of several thousand dollars separates many graduate employees from the Graduate School’s recommended stipend of $31,160. For Duke graduate student workers, it is typical to struggle because our funding is too low, not guaranteed from year to year, or includes gaps in the summers where we have zero income even as we continue to research. These difficulties are felt the most by grad student parents and their families, international grad students, grad students from minority and low-income backgrounds with no safety net, and grad students dealing with mental health.

The Duke Graduate Students Union believes that a Duke wage shouldn’t be less than a living wage. The university should guarantee all PhD students 12-month funding of at least $31,800.

So, on April 18 from 11 to 3 on Abele Quad in front of the Duke Chapel, DGSU will “camp out” to demonstrate the effects of working on a low-wage campus — not to get basketball tickets, but a “ticket to a living wage.”

With momentum growing across campus, the time to raise pay is now.

Union members have been working with the Graduate and Professional Student Council as well as university administrators to address low PhD pay, and our petition for higher pay has hundreds of signatures from grad students and allies near and far. A living wage for PhDs has broad support on our campus, but the fact remains that 500 PhD student workers don’t earn a 12-month stipend.

We cannot afford to wait for a living wage. We need action now. The university should publicly commit to paying a living wage to graduate employees.

DGSU invites you to join us at Pay-Ville! We welcome grad and professional students, undergrads, faculty, staff, administrators, members of the Durham community and especially prospective Blue Devils and their families to this exciting event. Swing by Abele Quad for refreshments and games, and learn about the grad student experience at Duke. At Pay-Ville you can help us build power to make change now, by letting the university know that you support a living wage for PhD students.

How can I get involved?

Show up! The number one way to show your support for a living wage is by attending Pay-Ville on April 18. Our numbers send a strong message to university administrators that fair pay cannot wait. RSVP to our Facebook event and come by to share your reason for supporting a PhD living wage. This is the most important DGSU event of the year, and our collective voice is how we can build the campus we deserve!

Spread the word! Tell your friends and colleagues about Pay-Ville and about DGSU’s campaign for a living wage! Invite your friends to the event on facebook, tweet your own story about low pay, share our memes :) or spread the word on your department or student organization listserv. The bigger our community, the stronger our message. Let’s make sure our collective voice is on full display on April 18!

Join the Duke Graduate Students Union! DGSU (SEIU Southern Region Local 27) brings together graduate student workers from across the university to make sure that everyone on Duke’s campus is treated fairly and paid well. Our strength is in numbers, and you have something important to contribute. Click here to join us!