Provost defends grad aid decision, says funding is a priority

By Michael Lipkin

Provost Thomas Rosenbaum spoke to an audience of roughly 60 graduate students yesterday for the first time since the December release of the Provost’s Working Group Report, which outlined the University’s new proposals for graduate financial-aid packages.

In his response to student concerns about the Graduate Aid Initiative’s exclusion of current students, Rosenbaum cited the University’s decentralized administration, restricted endowment, and substantial graduate population as the main reasons why the initiative is not as comprehensive as many would like.

The forum was organized by the Student Government Graduate Council following the release of the Provost’s graduate-funding decision last month. The decision, which addressed current graduate students’ concerns about their ineligibility for the generous funding allocations provided for incoming students, recommended optional minimum departmental stipends, increases in summer and dissertation fellowships, and the inclusion of the Divinity School in the initiative.

The report, however, does not extend the full aid granted to new students to those who enrolled at the University before the 2007–2008 academic year. Days after the decision’s release, the report was found to have overestimated the cost of such an extension by almost $24 million.

At the forum, Rosenbaum defended the University’s position on aid for current students. While he said that his office was not able to allocate as much aid for graduate students as he would have liked, he asked those in attendance to recognize the steps the administration has taken in recent years to improve the system of aid.

“This is the first time in the history of the University of Chicago that we’re thinking systematically about graduate aid with your input,” he said. “It’s not enough, I admit, but I hope you understand the significance.”

Rosenbaum explained that some of the difficulty in building a comprehensive aid plan is due to the unique organization of the University. He said that unlike the University’s peer institutions, the U of C has academic departments that are independent from the administration, and that the aid office cannot force any single department to implement the changes advocated in the report.

“I can provide carrots and I can provide sticks,” he said, “but I can’t force anything.”

One of Rosenbaum’s key points was that he intends to examine how long graduate students take to get their degree.

“We want people through programs in a reasonable amount of time, while providing the resources to do it,” said Deputy Provost for Graduate Education Cathy Cohen, who was also in attendance. “Some students linger, not only because of financial aid, but because of a lack of support from faculty.”

Both said that if graduate students are given more aid in the beginning of their residency, they will be able to complete their programs in less time while decreasing their financial burdens.

“We should get you out into the real world, to your own intellectual lives, as soon as possible,” Rosenbaum said.

While some graduate students asked questions specifically pertaining to their divisions and departments, others asked more general questions, touching upon the greater role of aid funding in the University’s budget. Many took issue with Rosenbaum’s arguments about how the University spends its available resources.

“Note that there are priorities that need to be made,” Rosenbaum said, pointing to increased spending in campus security, pressure to increase undergraduate aid, and structural renovations. “We need to prevent gargoyles from falling down, literally.”

“We understand that budgets have priorities,” said one student at the end of the meeting. “But when do we become one?”

The Graduate Council is planning a rally on the quad tomorrow to further pressure University administrators to address graduate funding concerns.