From the Community | The Graduate Student Council’s vote of no confidence in Stanford’s leadership

Feb. 9, 2023, 10:47 p.m.

Some say actions speak louder than words. In the case of Stanford’s administration, leaders say they care about student well-being, “prioritize student affordability,” and are committed to working with student leadership. However, their actions tell a different story: one of a university that prioritizes its own interests over student well-being, especially its graduate students whose underpaid labor powers Stanford’s excellence. We, the Graduate Student Council, have worked tirelessly to advocate for better living and working conditions for all graduate students – from pushing for a salary increase that outpaces inflation to trying to reinstate two critical transit lines essential for students to access basic needs and move around campus safely. 

We have worked hard to build relationships with key offices, such as VPGE and VPSA. We have spent hundreds of hours in meetings and advocacy on students’ behalf. We have convened focus groups to bring your essential voices and concerns directly in front of administrators. We have sacrificed our labor and our time – time that should have been spent furthering our education and research. 

Despite these efforts, how has Stanford responded? Consider a few examples: 

  • The administration’s proposed stipend/salary increase for the 2023-2024 school year is dramatically below what students need. Accounting for inflation, to return to our 2020 purchasing power we would require a minimum salary of $13,054/quarter, which represents a raise of 8.2% from this year’s salary. Instead, Stanford offers us a 4.9% increase for the upcoming year – essentially, a pay cut. The Stanford administration has witnessed time and time again graduate students’ dire financial straits. This crisis has only been exacerbated by the last two years of salary “increases” (3.25% and 1.98%) that have failed to keep pace with increased on-campus housing costs (3.51% and 3.48%) and skyrocketing inflation (6.5% and 7.0%). As such, we demand a raise of 10% in order to not only keep pace with inflation, but also to redress our serious affordability concerns. 
  • Stanford leaders dismissed our GSC Summer Affordability Survey results for “lacking rigor.” As a result, we worked with Stanford’s Institutional Research & Decision Support (IR&DS) team to design questions for their recent Expenses Survey that would reflect students’ concerns (e.g., additional jobs, foregoing medical expenses). We then encouraged students to complete the survey, with preliminary* records showing an unprecedentedly high response rate of 45% of PhD students. We had been told by multiple levels of Stanford’s leadership that the Expenses Survey results would be used to set salaries for the 2023-2024 school year. We made promises to you – our constituents – based on the good faith we placed in our administration to honor the process they set forth. Rigorous data from a large sample is now available, but Stanford leadership reversed their position and neglected to incorporate most of the highly concerning findings from the Expenses Survey in their process to set our minimum salary. To put this failure in further context, if any graduate student chose to ignore a plurality of evidence from their data collection, they would be accused of academic dishonesty. We must demand better from our university’s leaders. 
  • Furthermore, none of the recommendations from our Bill on Affordability have been implemented. We distributed our Bill across the university over five months ago. We put forth very reasonable solutions to address affordability concerns that have not been met with the appropriate sense of urgency or care. For example, one of our advocacy priorities has been to restore the Marguerite Shopping Express and late night N&O lines – which were available to students prior to the pandemic and have high student demand. Even though leaders from Stanford’s Parking and Transportation office agreed with GSC requests during administration meetings, the administration continues to indefinitely defer reinstating something that we’ve had for over 20 years.
  • Stanford leadership has claimed to multiple student groups and administrators that the GSC is a “principal partner” in these affordability conversations. Yet, we in the GSC have tried to connect with university leadership this entire year – ready and willing to serve as advocates for our constituents. Despite written assurance that we would be consulted, we were never given a seat at the table for conversations on next year’s minimum salary or even notified about the timeline of these conversations — this is not “partnership”. We were told about the increase in the 2023-2024 minimum salary only after it had been announced to leaders and staff across the university, leaving us no time to respond or advocate for change. The university now tells us that it is “too late” to offer student feedback on the 2023-2024 salary and assured students that we would be included in next year’s process. The administration’s tactics are clear: feign concern for student needs while disregarding student data and wearing down student advocacy until the next cycle. When we pressed VPGE for a response regarding this total lack of communication, we were rebuffed with their answer: “We listened carefully to the advocacy by the GSC. Your input helped put a focus on graduate needs and informed the rate [salary] setting.” How could university leaders have “listened carefully” when they did not meet with us and dismissed student data and testimonials? 

The “partnership” that we have worked in earnest to cultivate as a Graduate Student Council has been betrayed. The trust is broken. 

We have often heard that change takes time at a decentralized university like Stanford. Yet, Stanford has had years to address these growing concerns. We are not the first group of graduate students to sound alarms about the crush of living in one of the most expensive places in the world. Every year, Stanford leadership fails to act on these critical issues, effectively punting change to a new cohort of student leaders. It stops with us. 

We cannot be expected to continually commit to a university that will not commit to us. We have poured our time, effort, and energy into Stanford, and it is time we rise up and demand our needs are taken seriously and prioritized. This letter represents the Graduate Student Council’s vote of no confidence in Stanford’s leadership and demand for tangible changes to be made to improve Stanford’s bureaucratic structure and poor governance. 

– The Graduate Student Council of 2022-2023

Emily Schell is a fifth-year PhD student in the School of Education studying Developmental and Psychological Sciences. She is the Co-Chair of the Graduate Student Council. 

Jason Anderson is a fourth-year PhD student in Aeronautics and Astronautics. Jason serves at GSC Co-Chair and Engineering Representative, and this is his second term

Liz Park is a third-year PhD student in Chemistry. She serves as the School of Humanities & Sciences representative and secretary of the Graduate Student Council. 

Guillem Megias Homar is a third-year PhD student in Aeronautics and Astronautics. He serves as at-large representative and as the Benefits and Affordability Co-chair of the Graduate Student Council.

Christie Chang is a third-year PhD student in Immunology. She serves as the School of Medicine representative and treasurer of the Graduate Student Council.

Kristen Jackson is a third-year PhD student in the School of Education studying Race, Inequality and Language in Education. She is also the President of the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA).

Yiqing Ding is a fourth-year PhD student in the Mechanical Engineering department and he is interested in advocating for the wide interests of international students and scholars community at Stanford.

Lawrence Berg is a fourth-year PhD student in Chemistry. He serves as the School of Humanities & Sciences representative of the Graduate Student Council and representative to the Faculty Senate.  

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