UB grad students march on Capen Hall for a living wage

Sep 26, 2017

A mass of University at Buffalo graduate students marched on the university's administrative heart Monday to protest what they consider payments that are below a living wage and demands that are impossible to meet.

Traditionally, grad students are paid very low wages along with tuition waivers to provide introductory classes to students or as assistants to full-time faculty members teaching very large classes. Grad students say they actually receive as little as $11,000 for two semesters to teach while they are supposed to be doing their own studies. Many say they hold down second jobs to survive.

English grad student Andy Lindquist teaches composition.

"The tuition is waived, the 15 pay comes in and you can apply for fellowships because usually there are fees that amount to between $1,500-$2,000 on top of the tuition that aren't covered directly," Lindquist said. "But, on top of that, it's the $15,000 for the entire year and then any of the fellowships you can apply for as well."

Brent Cox teaches English rhetoric and composition and depends on summer work as a freelance writer.

"It can get bad," Cox said. "It can get bad, I mean, especially if you consider just that work is precarious in general and so if you're trying to organize your own classes and teach and then the summer comes around and you can't pick something up, it can get really difficult, really fast."

Those students are also supposed to be doing their own study working toward their doctorates, knowing the job market for PhDs in fields like English isn't great.

Vicky is a computer science grad student who is doing much better because grad students in her department have great job prospects and are paid better than in the English Department. She said she gets $18,000 a year, but other schools pay more.

"I have friends who are doing their PhDs at other schools," she said. "They also live in a similar cost of living area as Buffalo, but yet they're getting $25,000 when our school ranking is higher. Our school produces more money and yet other schools that produce less than us are able to pay more."

Longtime English Professor Jim Holstun agrees UB grad students are paid badly.

"I worked as an adjunct at UCLA a third of a century ago," Holstun said. "I made $4,000 a course for teaching six courses. Students here now, adjuncts here now, make $2,200 a course, as low as $2,200 a third of a century later."

In a statement, UB said stipend levels vary among departments and the lower stipends should be raised. It said the university is providing guidance to some departments as to how to do that.

Overall, however, UB said its pay is competitive with other public universities. The university said its total packages for 20 hours of work weekly average $38,000 a year - or $49 million in total - although much of that goes to tuition and health care, providing a claimed average stipend just over $17,000 a year. UB said that ranks the university 12th among 23 public universities in the Association of American Universities.