GSA votes in support of TA stipends, student anti-gun violence demonstrations

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The Graduate Student Association Senate passed a unanimous resolution supporting current and prospective students who wish to participate in anti-gun violence demonstrations. The Senate also voted to increase stipends for graduate student teaching and research assistants, which the majority of the graduate student representative body supported.

GSA President Tanja Aho urged the graduate student department and club representatives to vote alongside other schools who are advocating stricter gun laws at Wednesday’s Senate meeting. More than 260 colleges said there would be no penalty during the admissions process for applicants whose records indicate they were penalized for taking part in non-violent demonstrations against gun violence.

The GSA passed the same resolution UB’s Faculty Senate voted for on Tuesday that calls for faculty to support all students who choose to participate in the national walkout on March 14. Faculty, high school and college students across the country plan to walk out of classes at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 Parkland shooting victims.

“This asks the university to allow students to peacefully protest and accept incoming students without penalizing them for standing in solidarity for the victims of the Parkland shooting,” Aho said. “[Because they] are afraid that if they participate in this walkout, it will show up in their transcripts and it will be harder for them to get into college."

Peter Farruggia, a graduate law and public health student, said he will participate in the walkout even though it takes place the same time as his midterm exam.

“Some students were definitely questioning it, and we were curious to kind of see what our professor was going to say,” Farruggia said.

Farruggia said his professor expressed her support for the walkout and told the students they were more than welcome to participate in the protest.

The Living Stipend Movement, whose members have been actively pushing for a living wage for all graduate student workers, presented the resolution on the floor.

Ariana Nash, an English graduate student and member of the Living Stipend Movement and GSA, said she is hopeful the resolution will put real pressure on the administration to address graduate student concerns.

“When faculty, staff and graduate students all support a reasonable measure, and the administration does nothing about it, it tells you a lot about how little the administration cares about the university community,” Nash said. “The UB administration paid a lot for a branding campaign about ‘academic excellence,’ but they don't seem to care at all that there is campus-wide consensus that graduate programs are suffering because graduate students are being paid poverty wages.”

Members of the Living Stipend Movement estimated the cost of paying all students a living stipend would be less than $6 million annually.

“That's very little in terms of the overall budget, but it would make an immense difference in people's lives, and President Tripathi hasn't even been willing to discuss it,” Nash said. “So yes, hopefully we don't have to start organizing undergrads and petitioning the parents of students and prospective students in order to get the administration's attention. Hopefully, the administration will start to listen and start to make real change.”

Seventeen of UB’s administrators make over $300,000 annually, not including additional compensation from the SUNY Research Fund and the UB Foundation, according to New York Upstate.

“It’s absolutely appalling,” Farruggia said. “Especially considering that President Tripathi is the highest paid SUNY President in the entire SUNY system. The TAs and GAs here at UB are some of the lowest paid TAs and GAs in the SUNY system, and his response shows that he doesn’t care. He has all the advanced degrees of where he was a TA or GA, and he knows what it feels like. But this just shows how out of touch he is even with the university system even though he was part of it a long time ago.”

The Faculty Senate will discuss TA living wage and stipends on March 13.

Correction: The original article stated "Members of the Living Stipend Movement estimated the cost of paying all students a living stipend would be less than $10 million annually." 

Anna Savchenko is an assistant news editor and can be reached at anna.savchenko@ubspectrum.com and @AnnaSavchenkooo.