Letter to the editor

Imagine That

Last week the Faculty Senate Executive Committee voted down a resolution to support a living wage for graduate assistants. The 12-3 vote was largely based on two objections: that faculty should not tell the administration to fund something they clearly do not support, and that graduate students’ expectations for debt-free education are unrealistic. 

Those 12 “no” votes are a great disappointment to me and thousands of other graduate assistants struggling to meet their basic needs. But even more than disappointment, I feel pity for those 12 faculty members who have forgotten or perhaps never fully understood that part of our responsibility as scholars, critics, students and agents in the world is to imagine better: a better world, a better future, a better life. It’s sad that even in this institution of higher education there are those whose understanding of knowledge is so caught up in the instrumental notions of optimization, efficiency and general pragmatism that they’ve forgotten the imagination and vigor UB had in the '60s and '70s when it was briefly the “Berkeley of the East.”   

It was during this brief period that Angela Davis visited our campus the first two times. I can only hope her revisiting heralds a return to a better, more politically organized student body and faculty. Throughout her talk last week, Davis emphasized the importance of imagination for social and economic justice movements. Imagination convinces us that we can all be agents of change. 

Of course, a living wage for graduate students and debt-free education for all levels of postsecondary study is not a pipe dream. Just ask every other developed nation in the world how they manage. And it’s not impossible in this country either. UB is a rich school with the ability to fundraise and campaign for what its administration values. If we can build a $375 million medical campus, a new $18 million football field house and plan a 50,000-square-foot addition to Capen just because North Campus lacks a “front door,” then I imagine we could scrounge up a living wage for those fulfilling the mission of the university. 

I hope the students of our university are more inspired by persistently positive thinkers like Angela Davis than those 12 unimaginative members of our faculty. Never forget that aspirations matter: they teach us what’s possible before we know how to achieve it. 

Macy McDonald

Graduate Teaching Assistant

University at Buffalo