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An open letter to Provost Sally Kornbluth

Dear Provost Kornbluth,

The Duke Graduate Students Union was pleased to meet with you this past May to discuss pay issues facing graduate student workers at Duke—namely, a stipend that falls short of the cost of living in Durham; a pay schedule that leaves us without pay for months at a time, including when we first arrive on campus; and continuation fees that make graduating more difficult and that far exceed similar fees at Duke’s peer institutions.

DGSU found our meeting with you in May to be a valuable afternoon of sharing stories and setting goals to build a better Duke. The meeting moreover seemed to indicate the beginning of a respectful, collaborative relationship between DGSU and the university administration going forward—one different from the adversarial relationship of the past. Your concern for the problems we brought to your attention in May and your interest in working alongside us to solve them were enormously encouraging. When you were reappointed to the position of Provost this past June, it signaled to us that this spirit of support and cooperation would continue in the coming years.

We were thus disappointed when you declined to attend the very follow-up meeting you proposed this past September, and instead referred us to the Graduate and Professional Council. We are eager to work with you and other university-level administrators to resolve the issues of fair pay that are central to graduate workers’ experience, security and success at Duke. We need a university that follows up on its commitments to the people who make Duke an exceptional place to learn and work, and we hope to collaborate with you and other administrators in order to create an environment where graduate student workers can thrive.

Since we met, Emory University announced that it will increase the annual base stipend for PhD students to $31,000. This change highlights the importance of providing a competitive stipend that keeps up with cost of living, and shows what’s possible when graduate students and administrators work together to address pay and other issues. Will you meet with us this semester so we can find a way to do that? 

DGSU imagines a university that values and dignifies every person whose contributions sustain it—educators, researchers, service workers and students. We believe that higher education should cultivate an informed, engaged public, and that the university should serve as a site of research and teaching for the good of all. This vision will only be realized when every member of our university community is safe and respected.

We look forward to meeting with you soon. 


The Duke Graduate Students Union

This guest column was written by Katya Gorecki, a 6th year English PhD student; Jess Issacharoff, a 7th year literature PhD student; Claire Ravenscroft, a 5th year English PhD student; Matthew Taft, a 4th year English PhD student and Casey Williams, a 3rd year literature PhD student.


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