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UB graduate students hold walkout in opposition to GOP tax plan

Graduate students walked out of classes as part of national protest

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Graduate students and faculty members gathered at Founders Plaza on North Campus Wednesday to show their opposition to a tax bill passed earlier this month by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The event was part of a national protest organized by the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students in opposition to the tax plan. The bill is expected to cut $65 billion in savings for students over the next decade. The bill proposes eliminating existing tax waivers on tuition as well as student loan interest tax reductions.

UB issues tuition waivers to 1,472 students, according to UB spokesperson John Della Contrada. The addition of tuition waivers to their taxable income would mean students will be taxed at nearly double their current rate.

Graham Hammill, dean of the graduate school and vice provost for graduate education, told The Spectrum previously he is against the provisions in the tax plan that would hurt graduate education. In his statement, Hammill said the university believes taxing tuition scholarships would lead to fewer graduate students attending UB and would put students into deeper debt.

"Taxing graduate students will prove to be a disincentive to completing graduate degrees," Hammill said. "The overall effect will be a reduction in highly educated people in this country, which will affect our overall ability to be competitive as a society."

Some graduate students feel the university has not done enough to condemn the proposal. They feel the president or provost should address graduate students directly, or release an official statement to the entire UB community. 

Daniel Lee, a graduate student in communication, helped organize the protest on behalf of the Communication Graduate Student Association. The crowd grew from roughly 50 to 100 people as fellow students and faculty members spoke to the crowd about how the bill will negatively impact their lives.

Lee asked crowd members to raise their hands if the passage of this tax will prevent them from being able to come back next year.

Roughly half the crowd raised their hands in the air.

“Graduate students are simply not able, in most cases, to bear additional financial burdens issued by a tax on tuition resources,” Lee said. “These resources are not truly income, since the value cannot be spent on goods and services.”

Lee also defended the people in the crowd who raised their hands and cited the potential long-term effects of the bill.

“This tax increase would cause potentially thousands of our nation's brightest and best students to ‘drop out’ of their programs due to financial issues,” Lee said. “This premature abandonment of educational goals will limit our nation's progression in all areas of economics, since some of the best minds would not be able to conduct research and earn advanced degrees.”

Graduate students passed around pens to fill out pieces of paper which read, “My tuition waiver lets me [blank].” Students wrote “eat,” “work only three jobs instead of four,” “survive” and “enrich America.”

Barbara Bono, an English professor, was one of several faculty members who spoke against the bill to the crowd. She said it has the power to threaten the whole university community.

“From our freshmen whose loans are threatened, to our graduate students to whom insult will be added to injury, to their poor-based compensation and their lives in the future and to all of us who came and wanted to be here because of our public education mission; all of that is in danger of drying up,” Bono said.

Bono urged everyone in attendance to go online and reach out to their state representatives in order to prevent the bill from passing.

“Even New York State is going to be hurt by this bill in numerous ways, and unfortunately this one is minor in the scope of damages,” Bono said. “But this doesn’t mean that they can take the limited funds that you receive and tax them away.”

Willis McCumber, an English Ph.D. candidate, represented the UB Living Stipend Movement at Wednesday’s walkout. He feels the bill would jeopardize his ability to teach and become a leading scholar in his field.

“I barely scrape by,” McCumber said. “I have a very slim amount of savings. I don’t know what I would do if my car broke down. It’s a precarious lifestyle that I think most graduate students live, and nobody is arguing that we should change that. But I think it should be less precarious and not compromised by tax bills.”

McCumber thinks UB's administration should condemn the tax bill, even though the university has yet to release a statement on its passage.

The UB Living Stipend Movement is planning to hold a peaceful assembly in the administrative offices of UB President Satish Tripathi on Monday, Dec. 4 at 3:30 p.m. to negotiate grad student worker’s stipends.

Correction: The original article stated UB did not release an official statement. 

Anna Savchenko is a staff writer and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com


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