Members of the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU) led a march from the Earth and Space Sciences building to the Administration building on Wednesday, May 1 to deliver a list of demands following the university’s proposed hike in fees.
The university announced a $90.25 fee increase per semester for graduate students starting this fall. Graduate students say the nearly $1,600 worth of fees they are being charged per year are not sustainable for them. Graduate employees make an average annual salary between $20,000 and $25,000, which is below the cost of living in Suffolk County. The fees equate to around a month’s pay.
“We’re protesting the unfair increase in fees,” Lisa Crawford, a Ph.D. student in and the mobilizer for the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said. “We don’t think that the increased fees do anything for us as graduate students. We don’t use a lot of the services that the fees supposedly cover. Every year, we pay back a month’s wages for these fees that supposedly go to services that we never really use or see. So we’re protesting the high cost of fees and the increase of recent fees.”
Graduate students said that they ultimately want Stony Brook to abolish the fees. Steven Ketchum, the research assistant union representative, said that graduate students should not have to pay to work.
“When that fee bill comes through, it ruins my whole month,” Ketchum said. “I know the RA’s [research assistants] here do the lion share of the research here, and the TA’s [teacher assistants] do 60% of the teaching here. We’re essential employees, but we have to pay for things like the tech fees, which I need to do my job. President Stanley and his administration people aren’t paying for the internet. We’re the only full-time employees that pay to keep the lights on around here.”
The graduate student’s list, which was delivered to the Office of the President, included five demands. They read, “A freeze on all Graduate Employee fees, effective immediately. Eliminate all Graduate Employee fees within the next 12 months. Mandatory disclosure of fees on all offer letters for all admitted graduate students. A public hearing run by GSEU and GSO [Graduate Student Organization] on the fees, where you will face uncensored questions from graduate students and employees. You must request an audit of Stony Brook finances from State Comptroller DiNapoli.”
Crawford said the high cost of fees and the low salary forces her to make sacrifices on her living situation. She lives with four other roommates in a shared house.
“It’s crowded, and we’re definitely not getting what we should be getting as grown adults who are working towards our careers,” she said. “We should be able to be choosy about our living situation.”
Around 150 graduate students and sympathizers attended the march. They blew stadium horns, banged drums made of empty water jugs with yard sticks and yelled chants. They cried, “Stanley is a jerk, we won’t pay to work!” “Deficit? Full of s – – -!” and “Waive the fees, f – – – the fees!”
The protesters marched through the Strawberry Fest outside of the Student Activities Center. The group passed the Administration building and paused to make as much noise as possible in the echo between the two Staller buildings. They then stormed through the inside of the Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library and finally ended inside the Administration building.
Within the Administration building, the marchers lined up around the balcony of the second floor. The upper level filled quickly. The remaining protesters had to disperse themselves underneath.
The leaders of the event — Andrew Dobbyn, the business chair agent for the GSEU, and Caroline Propersi-Grossman, the chief steward of the union — led a second rally after the march. Dobbyn motivated the crowd to chant as he and Propersi-Grossman delivered the letter of demands to the Office of the President.
The fire alarm sounded right as Dobbyn gave the command for the protesters to leave the Administration building. They started a new chant as they slowly filed out. The graduate students yelled, “We’ll be back.”
The university released a statement via email to The Statesman following the protest that emphasized the importance of fee increases.
“For nearly a year, leadership in various graduate student fee-funded service units at Stony Brook University — Student Health Services/Counseling; Technology; Transportation Services as well as the introduction of Lifetime Career and Alumni Connections services — met with student advisory committees who consulted and advised on areas in which the University should continue, and increase, the quality and quantity of services that our students require and expect. In an environment of rising costs, a fee increase is essential to maintaining existing student services and expanding others,” the email wrote.
Dobbyn and Propersi-Grossman said next semester’s events would be decided by the members of their union, but they said the GSEU won’t settle until Stony Brook waives the fees.
“This is just the appetizer. This isn’t the main course,” Dobbyn said. “This isn’t anywhere close to the end. This is just the beginning. When next semester rolls around, the gloves come off.”