UB faculty and graduate students presented President Satish Tripathi with their concerns about low TA wages, decreased enrollment in the humanities and the fossil fuel divestment campaign on Tuesday afternoon.
Tripathi’s brief speech lasted roughly 10 minutes and focused on what he describes as a “national shift in [student] enrollment trends.” Following his speech, he fielded questions from the audience about low TA wages and low numbers of black faculty members.
In recent years there has been an increase in students studying STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering) and a decline in students majoring in “core” humanities degrees, Tripathi said.
He feels the shift is a result of a changing national and global economy, which are increasingly demanding employees with backgrounds in technology and life sciences.
“So parents and students are looking at these trends and they are concerned about realizing a return on the significant investment of a college education,” Tripathi said.
He said high employment and salaries for STEM graduates are “always” being touted in the news cycle and this leads parents and students to choose STEM degrees over a degree in the liberal arts or humanities.
Another factor leading to these shifting enrollment trends is the decline in on-the-job training, Tripathi said.
“Thirty years ago, if you joined IBM, for example, they would train you for a year,” he said. “So you could come from any area and they would train you. Now, most of the companies really don’t have any training program for more than a week or ten days.”
Tripathi explained employers expect students to come in with knowledge on how to do jobs that are increasingly technology-based on day one, so demand for STEM degrees is high.
In an effort to address decreased enrollment in the humanities, UB has implemented programs to make humanities degrees more appealing to students concerned about the job market.
One initiative is the graduate school professional pathways programs, which are “skills-based, experiential and interdisciplinary advanced certificate and master’s degree programs that complement the degrees and skills acquired in arts and humanities study...[providing] liberal arts students a pathway to employment,” according to UB’s website.
UB has also expanded its interdisciplinary offerings. Twenty new and expanded programs such as media study and engineering as a dual degree program have been added in the last year, Tripathi said. These programs provide internships and service learning opportunities which can help students secure employment after graduation.
“Employers want well-rounded students trained in the liberal arts,” Tripathi said. He said he recently spoke with the chief human resources officer at Google, who explained employers look for specific personality traits more so than a certain degree. These include “a love for constant learning,” “intellectual boldness,” humility and leadership skills
There was a Q&A session following Tripathi’s speech in which he fielded questions about TA stipends, which many graduate students and faculty feel are too low.
He said he agrees administration should “take a look at” the issue. TA stipends depend on each individual college and there is a “big disparity” between the different colleges, Tripathi said.
“[The departments] have limited resources. So they’ve got to pay the students living wages but they’ve also got to think about how they can afford [that],” Tripathi said.
Jim Holstun, a professor in the English department, also expressed concerns about low TA stipends.
Holstun feels if UB can allocate millions of dollars a year to UB Athletics, a field house and "secret bonuses,” the university should be able to pay TA’s a living wage.
“Might it be possible for the university in all its wisdom when it draws up its next budget to reallocate some of this money? It is my job and your job to make sure that our fellow public servants aren’t living in a state of abject poverty,” Holstun said. “A field house may be important but so is supper tonight and rent.”
In response, Tripathi said the field house is being built with donation money and not money coming from the state. He reiterated that the issue of TA wages “should be looked at.”
“It’s important to look, but it is also important to pay people,” Holstun responded.
“This problem exists in very few departments, but I know it exists so it is a problem,” Tripathi said. “Adjunct issues and TA stipend issues are not the same everywhere, there are departments looking to address those issues.”
Tripathi also addressed the low number of black faculty at UB. Black people make up 38.6 percent of the Buffalo population, according to the U.S. census, but only 3.8 percent of the UB faculty.
“You don’t compare the Buffalo population because UB is a national university. It’s not a local university that you take the city and compare the population, so that’s really wrong statistics, you’ve got to correct that,” he said.
He said the university has created “a lot” of efforts for diversity.
Departmental search committees for new faculty have to make sure there is diversity in the pool of applicants, Tripathi said.
“But of course at the end of hiring, it’s going to be the best person hired,” he said.
He said UB does better than Harvard in terms of the percentage of the minority hired.
The meeting concluded with a brief presentation by senior environmental studies major Vanessa Dwyer, who presented a resolution from UB Fossil Free requesting that UB divest from the fossil fuel industry.
This is the second time Dwyer has presented the resolution to Faculty Senate; she previously introduced the resolution on April 12, but the Senate could not vote on it because there were not enough senators present at the meeting.
The resolution is now in a reading period until the next general body meeting on May 16 where they will then vote to endorse the resolution, Dwyer said.
She feels “good” about the status of the resolution and said there has been more “vocal support” from the Buffalo community.
“It’s good that the word is getting out and I think that's what's going to get this done way more than these resolutions will,” Dwyer said.
Maddy Fowler is the assistant news editor and can be reached at email@example.com