GSA to vote for immediate action on TA stipends

GSA’s proposed resolution asks UB administration to raise graduate stipends


The Graduate Student Association will vote Wednesday on a proposal to increase stipends for graduate student teaching and research assistants.

The proposed resolution is the latest development in an ongoing fight for higher wages for TAs and graduate assistants. The proposal asks top administrators to take “immediate action” to raise graduate stipends to living wage levels and highlights the students’ vulnerabilities to financial hardships. The proposal also asks President Satish Tripathi to establish a committee to study competitive minimum stipend levels and make recommendations on how change should be implemented.

Ariana Nash, a GSA member and English graduate student, said she is optimistic the resolution will pass.

“I am confident that the GSA will vote to take measure to help GAs improve their stipends,” Nash said. “Doing so raises the bar for graduate education overall, and it's a travesty that the university has allowed the prestige of its funded graduate programs to decline by not keeping pace with the cost-of-living or with peer institutions.”

The average stipend across all departments was $17,343 in the 2016-17 academic year, according to the university’s office of institutional analysis. Graduate students are also required to pay fees which amounted to $2,513.50 for the 2017-18 academic year, leaving them with an average pre-tax income of $14,829.50, according to the resolution. The MIT living wage calculator estimates the current living wage for the Buffalo area to be $24,072 per year.

Many graduate assistants hold multiple jobs to support themselves and their families or are forced to drop out of school for financial reasons. Some graduate students said working compromises their ability to devote time to their academic responsibilities and become leading scholars in their fields.

UB recently announced a four-year plan that will increase new graduate students’ base stipends within the English department’s doctoral program from $15,000 to $18,00 in the first two years, starting next fall.

The new stipend levels will put English TA stipends above the average $16,364 among public institutions in the Association of American Universities. Its enactment, however, will require the department to reduce doctoral student enrollment from 65 to 50 over the next four years.

Aside from the English TA stipend increase, Nash feels the university has been largely non-responsive to the GSA’s requests to raise graduate student stipends.

“They have made the excuse that they cannot discuss stipends because departments set stipend levels, but of course the university sets the department budgets,” Nash said. “The university is hoping that the issue will just go away, but whether or not students are protesting, the issue that graduate students are struggling to support themselves and their families, that low stipends are hurting graduate research and that attrition rates are high isn’t going anywhere until the university does something about it.”

UB Living Stipend Movement members have been advocating for a living wage for all graduate student workers. The group’s most recent large-scale protest was last December, when roughly 50 graduate students and faculty marched from the Student Union to administrative offices on the fifth floor of Capen Hall. They presented administrators with a petition that called for a minimum living stipend of $21,310.

Senators will vote on the proposal at the next meeting Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Student Union.

University officials were not available to respond in time for print.

In a recent statement regarding the English TA stipend increase, the university said the College of Arts and Sciences is reviewing doctoral programs and stipend levels in the departments of Comparative Literature and Philosophy. The statement also said several departments have already worked with chairs to raise stipend levels.

Anna Savchenko is an assistant news editor and can be reached at mailto:anna.savchenko@ubspectrum.comand on Twitter @AnnaSavchenkooo.