Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

During the last year, the whole UB community has become aware that we have a graduate stipend problem. After deducting UB’s sky-high mandatory fees, some graduate assistants (TAs, RAs, GAs) make under $8,000 a year. They average under $13,000. This is unconscionable.

UB’s stipends fall far short of the $24,000 cost of living for a single adult in Buffalo. Compared to the stipends of the other 33 AAU public universities, they come in dead last: 34th out of 34. These stipend levels force graduate students into debt, into outside jobs, and out of the university.

The problem is a slow-motion car crash. It isn’t even all that slow.

 So wouldn’t it be a good idea to pull out of the spin — say, by paying graduate assistants more money? Ten million a year would bring a living stipend to every single graduate assistant on campus.

 Where would that money come from? Every year, UB gains hundreds of millions in tuition and other revenues. It also has a billion-dollar foundation, the UBF. At least $277 million of the UBF’s assets are completely unrestricted: UB can spend those funds on anything it wants. In 2016-17, the UBF gained $145 million in new unrestricted funds, and spent $110 million. And the UB administration draws up the budget— that’s what UBF Executive Director Edward Schneider told the Faculty Senate in October 2013.

But there’s a problem. When asked about using UBF funds to pay graduate students a living stipend, Provost Zukoski likes to say these funds are restricted and can’t be used for stipends. In September 2017, The Spectrum reported him saying “all the money that goes into the UB Foundation is determined by the donors.” He made a similar claim in the UB Faculty Senate meeting on Tuesday, September 18, 2018. 

When I told him that this was untrue and reminded him of the figures above, his only response was that he and I must be using different definitions of the term “restricted.” He may be right. I draw my definition from the UBF’s Consolidated Financial Statements. He must be drawing his from someplace else.

 What are we to make of all this? Telling the truth is important everywhere, but particularly in a university. It’s important for undergraduates writing papers and for graduates writing dissertations. It’s important for faculty writing articles and books. It’s even important for provosts addressing the university.

 As we continue our work for a living stipend, Provost Zukoski can count on hearing this question again and again. For instance, if he steps outside the UB Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 1, he will hear it from the Living Stipend rally he will find right there. Please come join us at 7:00 a.m. on the fifth floor of Capen Hall. Sorry about that! We didn’t pick this time, but we will have free coffee for you. All members of the UB community are welcome to attend and join the dialogue. In the meantime, please have a look at https://ublivingstipend.wordpress.com/

Jim Holstun

Professor of English