A mix of graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and community members are planning to march on Monday to present a petition to guarantee a livable minimum stipend for teaching assistants (TA).
The group will bring the petition to President Tripathi’s office on the fifth floor of Capen Hall. The petition titled “UB Petition for TA Living Stipend” has over 700 signatures as of Wednesday from 61 departments and demands a $21,310 minimum standard stipend. The march begins at 3:30 p.m. on Monday outside of the Student Union.
“Low pay has been an issue for a long time,” said Nicole Lowman, an English graduate student. “We just want everyone to be at a base level that is at least livable, if not competitive.”
Lowman wrote the petition alongside several graduate students and faculty members of the English department. Graduate students, faculty members and concerned staff circulated the petition mostly through social media.
The movement itself started among English graduate students who expressed concern over “unlivable” stipends for TAs as well as general transparency concerns “in the department and university proper,”according to Lowman.
The movement has since expanded to other departments such as physics, Transnational Studies and Global Gender Studies.
Many graduate students have to find ways to supplement their income with either private loans or second jobs.
Joseph Hall, an English Ph.D. student, said the gap between stipends and living expenses can lead to problems in the classroom.
“All things considered, we think teaching assistants do some outstanding work in the classroom, but we also believe many of us could put more into our work if we weren’t working a second job or worrying about how to pay rent,” Hall said.
Lowman said she hopes for a large “showing of people who signed the online petition.”
Lowman used figures listed on the UB Financial Aid website to calculate an acceptable minimum living stipend.
“The thing that infuriated me was [the website] estimated that the cost of living would somehow go down from the 2016-2017 academic year to the 2017-2018 academic year by around $3,000,” Lowman said.
She disagreed with the estimate and instead conducted her own based on the university’s logic. UB increased tuition and fees for graduate school by 4.6 percent between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Lowman used the 4.6 percent rate to estimate the increase in living expenses as well.
Based on this estimation, an on-campus graduate student’s cost of living would be $18,713 and an off-campus’s would be $21,531. The UB Financial Aid website currently lists the cost of living for both on- and off-campus students to be $17,907. Lowman said the website listing on- and off-campus as the same cost of living was “immediately suspicious.”
The graduate students involved with the movement also had some problems pinning down an accurate average TA stipend number.
The average stipend is $15,540, according to the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education. Lowman found this number suspicious as well. According to figures estimated by the Graduate Student Employees Union however, the average stipend is significantly lower: $13,190.
Both Hall and Lowman expressed concern with how the university allocates money.
“Instead of, or in addition to, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on rebranding campaigns and administrators and siphoning millions into the black box that is the UB Foundation, we want the administration to invest more in some of its lowest paid workers,” Hall said. “And we’re not asking for much; just enough to meet our cost of living in Buffalo.”
Dan McKeon is a copy editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org