The Recent Tax Proposals

Date: November 13, 2017
To: NYU Graduate Students
From: President Andrew Hamilton and Provost Katherine Fleming

The tax proposals currently being considered in Washington have many concerning provisions that would be damaging to universities, their students, and their students’ families, and the future of higher learning. From proposals affecting charitable giving to the repeal of deductions on student loan interest, from new tax liabilities for those receiving tuition remission to new tax liabilities for those residing in university housing, too many of the proposals’ “pay fors” are aimed at higher education.

I can assure you that combatting these elements of the bill -- on our own, with peer institutions, and through higher education associations -- is receiving our highest attention and effort.

We are, in particular, very focused on a provision we know must be of concern to many of you: the proposed elimination in the House Republican bill of section 117(d)5, which addresses graduate student tuition waivers. The House proposal would, in effect, treat the scholarship aid we give fully-funded PhD students as income.

Few of the proposals that have emerged in the tax discussions are as shortsighted as this one. Doctoral programs are inextricably intertwined with research and with the future of higher education. Measures that would make the pursuit of a PhD less affordable endangers the strength of the US research enterprise, our innovation economy, and the succeeding generations of university faculty. It threatens to turn a system that has long been based on merit into a pursuit available only to the well-off. 

Graduate students occupy a special place in the hearts of research universities; we see you as mentees, peers, and successors. In recent days, I (Andy) have personally met with Members of Congress to express my concerns over this and the other provisions of the tax proposal. Our Government Affairs Office is working around the clock on this matter; in the last week alone, staff from that office met with the Republican members of the New York State Congressional delegation to express our deep concern over graduate tuition waivers and other aspects of the bill, as well as with Senator Schumer’s office, with additional meetings scheduled for this week and next. And we are in contact several times per day with the major higher education organizations -- the Association of American Universities, the American Council on Education, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, to name but a few -- to coordinate efforts as we press our case.

We are encouraged that the counterpart Senate bill, which was unveiled this week, does not include this provision. However, that is all the more reason to remain focused on removing it from the House bill, as Congress will be seeking to reconcile the various versions. We will not rest. But we must stress how important it is for you to take an active role in advocating on your own behalves, too. Congressional offices need to hear directly from you, to understand the impact on your lives, your futures, and your aspirations; this will carry weight in Congressional offices. Of particular value are those graduate students who are in a position to be in touch with those Members of Congress who will be most influential in shaping the bill’s final outcome. Our Office of Government Affairs can be an informational resource for you in reaching out to your Senators and Representatives.

This is an important fight, one we shall take on together. And we will keep you informed of developments as the legislative process advances.