UB President Satish Tripathi speaks on Boldly Buffalo, research in State of the University address

Tripathi delivers annual speech as graduate students protest for a ‘living stipend’ in Slee Hall


UB President Satish Tripathi delivered the annual State of the University address on Friday amidst graduate student protests.

Tripathi spoke in front of roughly 200 people, consisting of UB faculty, staff, students and community members in Slee Hall.

Tripathi outlined the university’s advancements in health and environmental research, the UB 2020 plan, the Boldly Buffalo fundraising campaign, educational innovation and community service. Tripathi said UB has reached its “highest ranking ever,” placing 38th amongst universities nationwide.

Roughly 30 graduate students gathered before the address to protest low graduate assistant and teaching assistant stipends. After Tripathi talked about an increase in stipends, students stood and held signs that read, “Living Stipend?” and “UB Works Because We Do!” 

Charles Zukoski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said he appreciated the concerns of the students and the demonstration was "polite."

Tripathi opened by the speech by addressing the university’s journey from its roots as a private medical school established in 1846. Tripathi mentioned UB has become a public research university of 30,000 students from across the U.S. and more than 100 countries around the world.

Tripathi talked about progressive research in 2018, including the UB Clinical and Research Institution on Addictions which combats against substance abuse and the opioid crisis.

Tripathi also mentioned advances in schizophrenia research at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The research suggests early stages of pregnancy could be critical in the starting points of schizophrenia development.

UB-led teams have also created new technology, Tripathi said, which can help to detect cancer early on and will be beneficial in areas without hospitals.

Tripathi then talked about artificial intelligence research, such as UB’s Olli bus. The research, Tripathi said, is a step toward the next generation of autonomous transportation.

UB has also looked at findings by the Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water Institute which increases the efficacy of water cleaning technologies, according to Tripathi.

“This is how we are making our mark on the world,” Tripathi said. “And this is why the most competitive funding agencies acknowledge the path-breaking work we do.”

After the speech, Zukoski told The Spectrum he appreciated UB’s ongoing Boldly Buffalo campaign, which has raised $465 million as of Aug. 30.

“It brings in more scholarships for undergraduates, graduates and faculty members,” Zukoski said. “It also involves a capital campaign for moving departments from the North Campus to the South Campus and renovating spaces on the North Campus.”

The campaign, which is set to go toward experiential learning opportunities and scholarships, has raised 72 percent of its $650 million goal for the year, according to the campaign’s website. 

Tripathi also spoke about community service at UB and the benefits it provides to the community at large. 

“[Service] means improving student performance at under-performing Buffalo public schools and improving affordable housing for underserved Buffalo neighborhoods,” Tripathi said. 

“It means providing legal aid to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and providing health care services to rural villagers in Haiti. It means bringing sustainable food systems to Western New York and bringing the arts alive for Western New Yorkers.”

In spite of mentioning sustainable food systems, Tripathi did not allude to UB community members’ efforts to create a food pantry on campus. 

The food pantry is the result of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s No Student Goes Hungry Program, which mandates that all New York state colleges have a food pantry on campus. 

“Scott Weber — the vice president for student affairs — is currently running a study to find what is the best place and what are the needs [for the food pantry] and how might we build funding,” Zukoski said.

The food pantry drew the ire of students who were part of the graduate protests, who believe food insecurity is part of UB’s bigger problem with providing students with an appropriate stipend. UB currently provides graduate students with an average stipend of $38,000 for a nine month academic year. 

“TA’s over here have food insecurity because we don’t make enough money to make a living wage,” said Stephanie Gill, a graduate student in the biology department.

“I think it’s ridiculous that students have to go to a food bank to eat instead of just being supported at a base level,” said Jacky Chow, a graduate student in the biology department.

Graduate students made it clear that their protests will continue at all public meetings. Discussion has also surrounded the possibility of a rally on accepted students’ day, which could alter the perspectives of potential incoming students.

“They don’t care about feeding us but they care about how competitive we are,” Gill said.

Tripathi also mentioned plans for expanding UB’s campus with the addition of a new housing complex and moving the School of Social Work and Graduate School of Education to South Campus, “in the heart of our community.”

Editor's note: The original version of the article incorrectly quoted Provost Zukoski.

Tanveen Vohra and Jacklyn Walters are staff writers and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com.