Tulane Puts Luxury Apartments Before Graduate Workers

Credit: Solidarity Tulane

It’s not easy to be a graduate worker at Tulane. Solidarity Tulane, a Tulane graduate worker-lead organization, has made that loud and clear. Their primary goal, at the moment, is fighting for fully subsidized health insurance for all Tulane graduate workers. Their website states that, “this is part of our campaign to eliminate all health care fees that serve as barriers to the working poor.” Beyond that, Solidarity Tulane speaks out against disenfranchisement of academic workers and seeks to bolster academic workers’ right to organize unions.

Similar movements at other universities, such as the Duke Grad Union, have had recent successes in their demands for health and dental care. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of these demands, but Tulane, despite touting one of the nation’s best public health programs, has failed to make proper reforms. 

The importance of this is massive. According to Solidarity Tulane, graduate student workers are typically paid an annual stipend of $20,000-$25,000, but the MIT Living Wage Calculator sets the Orleans Parish cost of living for a single adult at $31,221. If current trends continue, that number will rise, but Tulane graduate stipends are not. Despite this, Tulane offsets costs at the expense of graduate workers through various fees (including a health center fee) and healthcare costs. This puts graduate workers in the terrible position of having to choose between halfway decent healthcare and other necessities, like rent and food. It doesn’t take an acclaimed public health department to figure out that that’s terrible.

Don’t take it from me. One need only read the testimonials that Solidarity Tulane advertises to understand how little Tulane supports its graduate workers. A unifying theme of these testimonials is the pressure these costs put on workers and their families causing anxiety and taking away from the quality of their work. Graduate workers are caught in the academic ladder of economic reliance on a university that demands full-time hours and then effectively asks them all to get second jobs to survive.

This is not in Tulane’s interest either. Peer universities are more competitive than Tulane in this regard, which disincentives talented scholars from coming. It would also take an immense amount of stress off existing graduate workers whose quality of work is often cited as the expense of this pressure. It should go without saying that comprehensive healthcare access is better for the whole community in terms of public health. Solidarity Tulane gives the best reason in their FAQ, “It’s the right thing to do! Graduate workers WORK! And just like other workers, we should not have to choose between accessing health care and making ends meet.”

Yesterday, Solidarity Tulane shared a meme speaking out against Tulane’s new graduate housing project downtown, Thirteen15, criticizing the steep starting rental price for a one-bedroom apartment of $2,165. Perhaps the building should have been named “Thirteen85” because that is the starting rental price of a studio apartment in the building. I won’t deny the steep rental prices of Downtown New Orleans, but the project really is a slap in the face to graduate workers who have been denied basic healthcare coverage and fair wages for years now. The building’s fact sheet claims that, “Thirteen15 is designed with you in mind,” but that you is certainly not your average Tulane graduate worker. 

Tulane’s other graduate housing building, Deming Pavillion, is only a block away, but the prices are sharply lower than Thirteen15. Thirteen15 appears to be a much nicer building, but it seems like Tulane should be in the business of affordable housing, not luxury apartments- which raises another question that lacks a clear answer. Tulane states that Thirteen15 will be managed by The Domain Company. The Domain Company primarily works in luxury apartment development and is run by Matthew Schwartz and Chris Papamichael. It should be noted that the two were fraternity brothers together at Tulane University. Let me be clear: there’s nothing necessarily wrong about Tulane working with alumni, but it does call into question Tulane’s financial priorities when there’s a significant lack of affordable housing for members of the Tulane community. 

Tulane actively encourages graduate students to live off-campus, another cost they offload onto graduate workers despite subpar stipend rates. The combination of all these variables depicts Tulane as a university that isn’t interested in scholars who aren’t affluent enough to shoulder the ridiculous burden of working full-time for less than a living wage and little to no benefits. We reached out to Solidarity Tulane for comment and they replied, “Regarding the Thirteen15 building, we are happy that the university seems to recognize the need for graduate housing, which is a big issue for grad students, especially international ones. However, the new facilities are extremely expensive and way out of the price range of most graduate students who live on stipends in the low to mid 20k range. Tulane graduate students have lots of other expenses such as health insurance and mandatory fees so the rent for this new property is simply inaccessible.” One would think Tulane could develop its infrastructure and help overburdened graduate workers by investing in affordable housing, but like subsidized healthcare and living wages, Tulane appears to just not get it.

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