Approximately 50 graduate students rallied for more money and fewer working hours on Tuesday outside the Couper Administration Building — eliciting an appearance by University President Harvey Stenger.
The protesters, who began their demonstration at the Pegasus statue in front of the Glenn G. Bartle Library, had demanded that Stenger respond to their concerns.
Their primary request was for the state to negotiate a new contract with the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU).
The previous contract between SUNY and the GSEU lasted from 2007 to 2009, and the two sides have not agreed on new terms since. It provided the graduate students with a 3 percent increase in salary each year to account for inflation.
However, after the contract expired, graduate student salaries regressed to the 2007 rates, according to Antoine Dolcerocca, a teaching assistant in the sociology department.
“The GSEU isn’t asking for much, we’re just seeking for our salaries to be adjusted for inflation,” Dolcerocca said.
Stenger, who spoke at the May Day protest, sent an email to Pipe Dream addressing the graduate student protest.
“The growth in our graduate programs is one of my top priorities, and having good teaching assistant salaries and benefits is one way for us to attract the best students,” Stenger wrote. “Limited funding is making this a challenge, but we are, and will continue, to find ways to increase TA stipends.”
President Stenger responded to calls of the protesters, and addressed the crowd for more than 30 minutes, addressing the protestors’ complaints that their lower salaries required them to take out larger loans.
“The money we pay you and the tuition that we cover for does provide you with enough money to pay rent, buy food, to have clothing, to have transportation,” Stenger said at the protest. “You might have to take a little bit of a loan. I took out $2,000 to $3,000 of loans every year when I was a grad student. But I knew eventually I would have to pay that back over 10 years. It’s part of the process of being a grad student.”
But many of the students were not swayed.
Shehryar Qazi, a graduate assistant in the sociology department, brought up the raise Stenger received upon becoming president.
“While the costs of living are going up, and students are taking out emergency loans, we’re being told it’s time to cut back,” Qazi said. “Meanwhile the president is being paid more.”
Dolcerocca also commented on Stenger’s raises.
“All new presidents get relocation money but an extra $200,000 is a bit extraordinary,” Dolcerocca said.
In a previous interview with Pipe Dream, Stenger explained why he felt his salary is fair.
“The SUNY Board of Trustees sets the salary of the presidents on SUNY campuses. In their opinion, the salary they offered me was a competitive salary that would be similar to similar institutions, and I did agree with that,” Stenger said.
Although Stenger did not promise any direct action, some students, such as Dolcerocca, appreciated the gesture.
“This is the first time a president has spoken with the GSEU in a long time,” Dolcerocca said. “Other have barricaded themselves away, so this is a good sign.”
Ryan Smith, a senior majoring in computer science, believed the University has no compelling reason to increase the wages of TAs.
“If their wages are on par with other institutes I do not feel like they should be paid more,” Smith said. “In my experience here, I have not felt like graduate students teaching or being TAs have really gone above and beyond and deserve a raise.”