People over buildings: Subbaswamy must rethink budget priorities

By Avery Furst

(Daily Collegian File Photo)
(Daily Collegian File Photo)

The Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) had yet another disappointing meeting with the Chancellor of the university. GEO’s elected leadership met with Chancellor Subbaswamy on Thursday, March 3rd, to discuss affordable housing for graduate students and workers, access to the University Childcare Center, white supremacy and racism on campus and to express our solidarity with other campus activist groups.

When GEO Co-Chair Avery Fürst asked what the Chancellor’s budget priorities are (within the strict budgetary constraints he is operating) he replied “buildings.”  The Chancellor agreed with GEO Mobilization Coordinator, Damola Oduwale, that affordable housing in the Valley, in general, is a major issue and that he would be amenable to helping out in individual cases but that he does not have the funds to intervene in a systematic manner.

More specifically, Chancellor Subbaswamy’s budget priorities include replacing Bartlett and the William S. Clark International Center (better known as “Hills”). These buildings top the list of “unhealthy buildings” that need to be replaced. Subbaswamy says it is “unforgivable” that the State did not pay to replace these buildings when their time had come. “Unforgivable” is exactly how we at GEO would describe the state’s lack of funding for our University.

But more disgraceful are the implications for the people that inhabit, work, and study within those buildings. As GEO’s Steering Committee member Muhammad Ashraf noted, it is not buildings that make up the University, but us, the students, grad workers, the faculty and other staff. Neelofer Qadir, also a member of the Steering Committee, commented that “it is also interesting which academic departments and people are housed in the sickest buildings.” For example, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and English are among the departments housed in Bartlett Hall, and Education, the Center for Psychological Health, and many of Afro-American Studies department’s classes are housed in Hills. Qadir believes that this enduring neglect by both the State and the University reflects their lack of prioritization of the humanities and social sciences.

When we got to the subjects of white supremacy and racism, issues that our members face in and out of work, Chancellor Subbaswamy said in an aggressive tone that “white supremacy is not a Labor Management issue.” When GEO’s Grievance Coordinator Manuel Matos countered that racism impacts every aspect of people of color’s lives, including the workplace, the Chancellor remained steadfast that this meeting was the wrong place to address white supremacy. He continued to say that he spends 10 hours a week addressing incidents of racism and bias and that if we want to discuss racism we should attend his meetings. Matos had, and responded that racism is intersectional and ought to be addressed in multiple forums.

GEO’s Co-Chair Santiago Vidales continued on to our final agenda point of solidarity with other campus groups. Vidales shared with the Chancellor that we as GEO back the Coalition to End Rape Culture and their Survivor’s Bill of Rights and would like to see it fully included in University policies. The Chancellor seemed as uneasy with this agenda item as with racism on campus and said something along the lines of “we will take that into consideration.” When asked if he would like to ask us any questions or talk about anything else, the Chancellor said he had nothing else to discuss.

We as GEO hope to see the Chancellor and the University shift both their attitudes and their budget priorities to champion the needs of people, specifically people of color, people of the African Diaspora, people who are disproportionately sexually harassed and assaulted, the people who need mental health services, poor and working class students who have a hard if not impossible time accessing the university, and all of the workers – grad and otherwise – that live in poverty to keep the university, and its buildings, running.

Avery Fürst is a Collegian contributor and the Co-Chair of the Graduate Employment Office and can be reached at [email protected]