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Grad students rally against House tax bill

Graduate students and other interested parties gathered on Founders Plaza to protest the House bill that would tax students' tuition scholarships. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By SUE WUETCHER

Published November 30, 2017

How many people have car payments?

How many buy groceries and gas for their cars?

Many in the crowd of more than 100 graduate students — and some faculty members — raised their hands when asked those questions yesterday during a rally in Founders Plaza.

A graduate student gets at the heart of the protesters' argument. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Communication graduate students Robert McIntosh and Daniel Lee told the crowd that those car payments, groceries and gas will be “taxed away” if the tax bill approved recently by the House of Representatives becomes law.

The rally in Founders Plaza, and another planned at the same time on the South Campus, were organized to spread awareness of, and voice opposition to the proposed tax bill, which would eliminate the current federal tax waiver on college and university tuition waivers — UB uses the term “scholarship” instead of “waiver” because UB still must fund the tuition to SUNY — and include the value of that scholarship as taxable income in addition to students’ stipends.

Slightly more than 1,400 UB graduate students receive full-tuition scholarships, typically $10,870 per student per year. The annual stipend students are awarded averages about $18,000.

Including the scholarships as taxable income would dramatically increase students’ tax burdens and could affect their ability to stay in school, rally organizers say. In fact, a number of students at the rally raised their hands when Lee and McIntosh asked if anyone would have to leave school if the tax bill was enacted.

English professor Barbara Bono offers her support to those attending the rally. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Lee also noted that as bad as the tax bill is for New York State residents, its impact will be even more harmful for out-of-state residents and international students, who pay a higher tuition rate than state residents.

The rallies at UB were part of the national #gradtaxwalkout event staged by graduate students at campuses all over the country yesterday to protest the GOP tax proposal.

UB and a number of national organizations, such as the American Association of Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools, are advocating for the removal of the part of the Tax Reform Bill that taxes graduate student tuition.

In a statement on behalf of the university, Graham Hammill, vice provost for educational affairs and dean of the Graduate School, said UB is very concerned about the impact of the tax bill on UB graduate students.

Taxing these scholarships will cut into the annual stipend graduate students are awarded and means that fewer students will attend graduate school, Hammill said, adding that those who do attend are at risk of accumulating more debt as they complete their degrees. 

“Taxing graduate students will prove to be a disincentive to completing graduate degrees,” he said. “The overall effect will be a reduction in highly educated people in this country, which will affect our overall ability to be competitive as a society.”

President Satish Tripathi personally called Rep. Chris Collins last week to talk about removal of the part of the tax reform bill that taxes graduate student tuition, and to stress the university’s objections to it.