TA Stipends

An Issue Too Long Ignored



Graduate teaching assistants within several departments of the College of Arts and Sciences, including geology, history, and English, are fighting the administration for higher stipends, which have remained static for the past 10 years at $8,400 while the cost of living and national stipend levels have steadily increased. The TAs have repeatedly requested a base-line raise of at least $3,000 to meet the costs of life in Buffalo.

The TAs protest of the administration's refusal to grant a raise culminated in the withholding of the final grades for last spring semester. This occurred under the support of the majority of the 75-member TA staff in the English Department.

The administration quashed the protest and reprimanded several of the TAs involved, while still neglecting to reconsider the stipend issue sparking the action. While the issue became prominent over a year ago when the Faculty Senate voted "no confidence" in President Greiner's administration, it has yet to be effectively addressed.

There is no way anyone can float financially on an $8,400 a year stipend. According to the UB Office of Financial Aid, $11,563 per person per year are necessary to achieve a minimum standard of living in Buffalo. The disparity between the two figures makes it undeniably evident TAs in the College of Arts and Sciences are being paid less than a reasonable wage.

It's flawed logic for the administration to believe that its graduate scholars can perform effectively if they're being forced to endure the difficulties of making ends meet on a shoestring budget. Some must support families with their stipends, and many find no other option than to take on second jobs.

The administration stands by the steady affirmation that if certain stipends are raised in arts and sciences, then every single TA in every department also must receive a pay increase - apparently infeasible with the current budget.

But if fairness were the goal, the administration would make every stipend equal. Certain teaching assistants in UB's graduate school involved in research-related activities earn well over the $8,400 base stipend of the TAs in question, yet no one has suggested a reduction of their awards in the name of fairness.

UB's response to the TAs' demands also seeps with inequity. The current policy is to reward select TAs with fellowships. UB has 90 to give away. But with 75 TAs in the English department alone, it is doubtful they can help the majority of the graduate assistants in the College.

What is more troubling is that these fellowships have gone mostly to new TAs, not the veterans who have already endured years of financial struggle.

With the millions of dollars the administration invests in graduate and research programs, it's unusual for them to turn their backs on the students who are its lifeblood.