A march in solidarity with the striking graduate student workers at Temple University in February 2023. (Dan Confalone /TUGSA)

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Imagine walking into your doctor’s office or pharmacy and being told you no longer have health insurance. You can’t buy the medication you need or pay for your wellness visit.

Imagine being the first person in your family to pursue an advanced degree and getting slapped with a tuition bill that would mean you have to drop out. 

That’s what striking Temple graduate student workers face right now. 

Two weeks ago, university administrators informed members of the Temple University Graduate Student Association (TUGSA) — which represents 500 active graduate workers and 250 affiliate workers — that their tuition remission and health insurance had been revoked. Students logged into TUpay and saw a charge of thousands more than stipulated in their signed contracts. 

They discovered Temple had also canceled their health care coverage. 

Graduate students were effectively fired.

As alums of the art history program at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University, we lend our voices in support of TUGSA strikers. We call on Temple to sit again at the bargaining table and resist causing further harm to its students. Their requests are far from outrageous, and we stand behind them in solidarity.  

For over a year, TUGSA has voiced concerns to the administration as grad student workers struggled to afford groceries, rent, and bills. Their current wage base is $19,500 per annum — less than half the commonly estimated cost of living in Philadelphia. They are requesting an increase to $32,800, pointing to the University of Pennsylvania’s recent decision to raise its grad student wages to $38,000. Temple student workers are also requesting parental leave that lasts longer than five days. They want affordable healthcare for their dependents; they want time to grieve, if needed, with proper bereavement leave.

University administration has been unwilling to meet the students halfway. So far, the university has proposed increasing the stipend to $22,500 over the next three years, and offered to “double” parental leave to 10 days. 

The university’s retaliation — barring students from enrollment and rescinding their benefits — shines ever more light on exploitative labor practices rampant in higher education.

Our own time Temple afforded us a valuable foundation steeped in ardent expertise, dedication, and research-led training. It set us on the path towards securing advanced degrees, fellowships and grants, and exciting careers in a diversity of fields around the world. 

Tyler is a special place, a home for radical, intellectual, playful, and historically rooted art and architectural experimentation. But our love for our art school is matched by our outrage at its treatment of our colleagues and friends. We are appalled that our institution continues to betray its students, following a cruel model more at home in a CEO’s office than at a state-funded institution with a mission of egalitarian education. 

Across the United States, higher education is defined by its exploitative contingent labor system. We’ve each navigated that system as graduate students, adjunct lecturers, post-doctoral researchers, visiting assistant professors, and tenure-track professors. 

At Temple, graduate students work to advance their own education and expertise, while teaching classes and managing labs. They maintain hundreds of college classes for thousands of students, contribute significant pedagogical value, and perform cutting-edge research. Without its non-tenure track faculty –– including the 750 TUGSA members — Temple would be unable to deliver on its promise of providing a world-class education to one of the most diverse student bodies in the country. Temple University cannot function without contingent labor.

Many graduate students are parents. Many support their extended families. Many use the campus food bank, the Cherry Pantry, and SNAP. The majority of Temple’s graduate students do not benefit from generational wealth. They all deserve our energetic and whole-hearted support as they work towards securing better working conditions and benefits. Donate to their strike fund. Share their social media posts. Take the time to understand their demands. Join them on the picket line.

These unionized workers — at Temple University and in graduate student unions around the country, see here, here, here, and here — are participating in collective action to force the changes needed to repair harm caused by depressed wages and bare-bones benefits. As fellow art historians, collaborators, educators, and museum professionals, we support and echo their calls for meaningful and productive engagement. 

We call on Temple University and the administration of the Tyler School of Art and Architecture to support its students and end unnecessary strikebreaking tactics. Sit down at the table. The world is watching.

Allison Everett, MSc (BA Temple University, Tyler School of Art and Architecture ‘07; MSc University of Edinburgh ‘10); 

Kristen Streahle, PhD (BA Temple University, Tyler School of Art and Architecture ‘09; PhD Cornell University ‘18);

Tiffany Lynn Hunt, PhD (BA University of California, Santa Barbara ‘06; PhD Temple University, Tyler School of Art and Architecture ‘20); 

Sophia Quach McCabe, PhD (MA Temple University, Tyler School of Art and Architecture ‘10; PhD University of California, Santa Barbara ‘19);

Nicole Elizabeth Cook, PhD (MA Temple University, Tyler School of Art and Architecture ‘10; PhD University of Delaware 16’)

With the support of

Maite Barragán, PhD (Temple University ‘17)
Jasmine Cloud, PhD (Temple University ‘14)
Robin Craren, MA (Temple University ‘12)
Michelle DiMarzo, PhD (Temple University ‘17)
Amy Gillette, PhD (Temple University ‘16)
Kaelin Jewell, PhD (Temple University ‘18)
Reggie Lynch, MA (Temple University ‘12)
Heather Maneval, MA (Temple University ‘09)
Marie N. Pareja Cummings, PhD (Temple University ‘15)
Shannon Steiner, PhD (Temple University ‘09)
Suzanne Willever, PhD (Temple University ‘20)
Amy Yandek, PhD (Temple University ‘13)