Letter to the Editor: UB Giving Day

Regarding UB Giving Day:

Through either serendipity or a strange current of capitalist synergy, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Robin Schulze’s office sent the announcement “Coming Next Week: UB Giving Day,” soliciting donations from every underpaid graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences within days of The Chronicle of Higher Education publishing “Want to be a ‘Volunteer Adjunct’? Southern Illinois U. Is Hiring.”

As graduate student laborers at the University of Buffalo and members of the UB Living Stipend Movement, we’re all too familiar with what the university “gives” us. With the right hand, it dangles access to world-class researchers and a possibility of one day becoming noteworthy scholars ourselves, while with the left it holds the whip of near-poverty level wages, uncompensated labor and an ever-shrinking job market. The UB Giving Day email both asked for donations from our already paltry pay and contained yet another demand on our nonexistent free time: that we represent the university on Giving Day as ambassadors in return for “free swag.”

The swag we want is not the swag they have in mind. We’d love the swag of knowing our university valued the over sixty hours a week graduate student workers spend teaching, researching and writing in fulfillment of the university’s mission. We’d love the swag of the less than one percent of the university’s overall budget that it would take to pay every graduate teaching assistant on campus a living wage. We’d love to swagger out of a meeting with Dean of the Graduate School Graham Hammill and Provost Charles Zukoski knowing we had reached a fair negotiation of graduate workers’ contracts.

Perhaps we should settle for the T-shirts.

We won’t say UB should “give” us this swag. Despite Southern Illinois University’s characterization of adjuncts, neither they nor graduate student workers are volunteers. We don’t need the university to “give” us anything; we require compensation for our labor. We echo the teachers in Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma who walked out and demanded recognition for their work. Teaching may be a gift, but educators can’t live on gratitude.

And it’s entirely too coincidental that on April 15, the day of the Living Stipend Movement’s most recent protest, the Office of Annual Giving sent a precursor to the UB Giving Day email with the subject line “Here’s What the UB Fund Gives You.” How did universities arrive at this “gift” narrative?

UB already claims to “give” graduate teaching assistants a total package of $38,000, a number they not only fail to clearly delineate, but also grossly inflate through the inclusion of tuition waivers. No respectable research institution would expect its graduate student workers to pay tuition. The fact that this veritable Monopoly money is untaxed only further proves it is neither a gift nor a source of income.

Here is how UB keeps its coffers full: by underpaying its adjunct and graduate student workers, and charging graduate students over $2,000 in fees every year for these “gifts,” all while funneling donations into a so called non-profit Foundation all but sequestered from the light of audit.

Until the university right-sizes its priorities and compensates us with living wages, they can keep their T-shirts and coffee mugs.


Macy McDonald

Nicole Lowman

Leslie Nickerson

University at Buffalo graduate students