Living Stipend Movement makes presence known at Council meeting

Student spoke out before meeting cut short

ub-council

The Living Stipend Movement made its presence known at the UB Council meeting Monday morning.

Roughly 50 people attended the meeting, where Living Stipend Movement protesters spoke out for their cause. Jessica Baker, associate for the State University of New York Office of General Counsel, started by clarifying the meeting’s purpose. She explained New York State’s Open Meetings Law and said there would be no time for public comment. 

This didn’t stop English Ph.D. student Willis McCumber from speaking out roughly five minutes in.

“On behalf of the graduate students assembled here today I’d like to ask the council to consider a blessing to the budget priorities of the upper-level administration at the university,” McCumber said. “We'd like to ask the council when it will consider the budget priorities of a major cross-section of essential workers at UB.”

McCumber’s interruption broke the rules Baker set at the beginning of the meeting, which Baker reminded him of. McCumber ignored Baker’s request to stop talking and Baker recommended the council go into executive session.

Jeremy Jacobs, council chair, made a motion to move the meeting into executive session and with a majority vote, the meeting ended.

Executive session allows a public body to discuss private matters such as those that “will imperil the public safety” or information relating to open police investigations. 

The Living Stipend Movement read their two-page statement in unison while council members walked out of the meeting.

“How long do we have to wait for a living stipend? … How long do we have to wait for you to prioritize graduate student employees in setting the university budget?” they asked.

Macy McDonald, an English Ph.D. student, said she felt the outburst was necessary to disrupt the council’s “business as usual” attitude.

“I think when they leave the room like that, they're hoping that we will go away,” McDonald said after the meeting. “If they ignore us, then the uproar will die down, we'll be quiet, we’ll take their ‘no’ as no. They have an obligation to support the financial and academic interests of the students.” 

McCumber said the demonstration was “not how [they] want to be spending [their] time,” but was necessary to get their point across.

“I mean, we don't want to be here … But we just feel that they’ve forced our hands, that they forced us into a corner,” McCumber said. “I'm really disappointed by the way the faculty has recently avoided and abdicated its responsibility to come to make a statement on this issue.”

Mike Brown, student representative to the council, said he could not discuss what took placing duing the executive session, but explained the report he initially planned to present.

He said he believes there are “two paths” to resolve the stipend conversation: increasing UB’s budget from the state or reallocating UB’s current funds.

Brown said he hopes UB can provide an interactive breakdown of the budget online, so students can see how fund reallocation affects different departments.

“It would be pretty neat if it were online and interactive … to have the full picture of the university’s budget and basically say, ‘OK, let's try to figure something out,” Brown said. 

Brown’s report included recommendations for educating students on the figures behind UB building names and acknowledgement and collaboration with members of “the First Nations” –– the Haudenosaunee.

The UB council is set to meet next on June 3. 

Correction: The original article stated the Living Stipend Movement broke New York State’s Open Meetings Law. LSM didn’t break the law; it broke the rules set by SUNY Associate Jessica Baker at the beginning of the meeting. 

Jacklyn Walters is a Co-senior News Editor and can be reached at jacklyn.walters@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @JacklynUBSpec