President Donald J. Trump speaking at the 2013 CPAC. Trump’s proposed tax plan could financially hurt graduate students. GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR VIA CC BY-SA 2.0

This past Thursday evening, I wandered into a pizza shop, folded myself into a counter seat and ordered two slices of coal-fired pizza with a glass of sparkling water to wash it down. I was hungry and in need of a distraction from the finals that I have not  been studying for. Like most students around this time, I am busy with assignments and final presentations. This is where I was introduced to what was happening in the United States Senate.

“Did I ever do that extra credit assignment?” I asked myself, as the pizza arrived, steaming and delectable, with a crispy crust, fresh mozzarella, basil and shaved parmigiana all over a tomato sauce with a secret ingredient. For a brief moment, I thought the best approach to devour this slice was the de Blasio way of eating a pizza. In 2014, Bill de Blasio was just a mere candidate for mayor of New York City and used a fork and knife to maneuver his way.

“Hmm,” said a friend, when asked about the mayor’s prior fork use, uttering the onomatopoeia for “Yeah, that’s totally the wrong way.” There are multiple correct ways of eating a slice of pizza and by extension, resolving the problems that are being faced in the United States Senate and locally here at Stony Brook.

The United States Senate worked late Thursday night through early Saturday morning on the sweeping tax reform that would rearrange many parts of the roughly $1.4 trillion federal budget and its 487 pages. This federal legislation would readjust the individual tax brackets at the expense of deductions and exceptions like the College Affordability Tax Credit or the student loan deduction. In addition, this weekend also saw a blistering condemnation from the Graduate Student Organization and the Undergraduate Student Government in a joint statement posted on Facebook that discussed the impact of these same reforms on student life, the affordability of higher education and the inherent higher costs that would be seen by students if this legislation gets signed by the president. It should be noted that if this piece of legislation does get passed by the Senate, it would need to go to a bicameral legislative committee to unify the language and would face stricter scrutiny.

Good public policy stems from being responsible with the public’s money. Beth Simone Noveck, a New York University professor of engineering and technology, once said, “Design solutions that do more with less. Instead of cutting a service to save money, ask if there is another way – such a prize or challenge to address the problem that both serves the needs [of the organization] and cuts costs.”

This means that, to find inefficiencies in a budget, one must design a new way to approach its formation, whether that is on a national level, here at Stony Brook or in student clubs.

Be that as it may, my first impression of the joint statement released by the Graduate Student Organization and the Undergraduate Student Government on Nov. 30, is one of two different perspectives and two different audiences. A graduate student might even read the Graduate Student Organization section and come away with the impression that master’s degree students have become de minims by the language that was used. Master’s students were not mentioned in the same fashion as doctoral students. Stony Brook is a large and diverse institution that serves the entire state of New York and the world. It enriches the local area not only by educating young leaders, but these same students also become practitioners who apply their scholarship to improve the quality of life and economic vigor to the greater community.

Many graduate students in master’s degree programs also participate in financial aid programs, such as federal student loans and other departmental-sponsored programs that would be adversely impacted. While SUNY policy 7009 stresses that local college campuses have the authority to use state operating funds and tuition revenue in support of scholarships and grants, it is up to the local college campus and through that, the department to define the requirements to use for said federal or state funds. For example, MFA students at Stony Brook who apply for the Graduate Council fellowship and similar Masters of Arts students would be impacted in the same fashion as doctoral students in terms of seeing a higher tax liability under the proposed national change. School of Nursing students would also face the same problem because they receive a similar scholarship. Most graduate students who would potentially receive a tuition waiver, scholarship or use federal deductions to reduce the overall expense of higher education would be impacted.

It might have not been the intent of the Graduate Student Organization to create the impression that doctoral students would be hit the most or any differently than master’s students. And I hope their example was just to illustrate that there are many facets of student life experienced by similar groups of students impacted equally by the proposed change on the national level. However, I would remiss in mentioning that collaboration through engagement that invites participation does not cost more to do. A little messy but that’s the fun of making a “pizza.”

I don’t mean to be dismissive of all student life decisions that occur in the chambers of the Graduate Student Organization or the Undergraduate Student Government, but a different approach might be needed to stress the importance of staying united in cause. Think of this local chapter of this important national dialogue process as a work in progress.  What tools would you use to fix that problem? Who would you call? Perhaps Joe the Plumber or the famous pizza maker Chris Bianco might be inspiration for us, as graduate students, to unify and call for clarification.