Present is just as important as future

By Averill Leslie

The Maroon’s recent article on current graduate students’ dissatisfaction with the University’s new graduate student funding initiative (“Graduate Students Decry Aid Package,” 3/30/07) raises several important questions, foremost among them why we grad students might have any right to be upset. On some level it’s outrageous that we would be. The initiative, we are told, will in no way affect the deals the university offered each of us at the time of our own admission. Whether that deal was a Century Fellowship or an admission offer unaccompanied even by some minimal tuition assistance, each of us apparently was satisfied with it when we accepted it. Any dismay now at new students being offered something better must therefore be simple opportunistic griping; a fit of jealousy.

But let us take a different approach to why current graduate students might be upset. The Maroon Editorial Board is on the right track when it highlights the University’s responsibility “to take care of its own” (“Fund Grad Students Fairly,” 4/3/07); the point ought to be taken even further. What the administration perhaps forgets in its focus on contractual relationships with individual graduate students is that all of us actually live here, with one another, within a University community. Graduate students coming in under the new initiative likewise will be living as part of this community. How could the initiative not therefore reverberate within our community, having hundreds of effects upon all our lives here even if it does not disturb a single one of our individual contracts? How, for instance, will these incoming waves of new students with guaranteed teaching positions affect current students’ access to teaching positions? Could an infusion of students with dramatically higher stipends price current residents out of area housing? Will I be at an educational disadvantage because I am forced to use library reserve books while my incoming .peers can afford to buy personal copies? Will I be at a social disadvantage because my budget won’t comfortably accommodate another evening out with some of my more recently admitted peers?

As these examples suggest, there are a range of levels at which this initiative will affect the dynamics of community life here. On this level, we current students simply need reassurance from the University that new students’ opportunities in this University community are not going to displace our own—and it would be nice if that reassurance took material form. Five or ten years from now, once most of the current students have struggled through the pipeline, the problem will have resolved itself; the current shape of the aid initiative implies that the Administration is content to wait that long to have a healthy University community.

But that is a very long time measured in actual lives. If this initiative truly were about the quality of life at this university, it would have considered all those in need and aimed at some amelioration for people already here before turning newcomers into comparative royalty. Instead, the incredible disparity suggests that the University was being absolutely literal when it announced this initiative as a bid to become competitive with regard to student recruitment. One would think, though, that the expectation of a good experience once here would also prove a powerful recruiting tool. And what would foster that expectation more than a declaration by the university that five years is too long to wait, that a generation of its students cannot be cast off in pursuit of institutional greatness?

There is no question that over the long run this initiative will dramatically enhance the experience of living in this community—livable stipends will have that kind of effect. I, along with many of my fellows, congratulate the Administration for this type of institution- building that has community building as the ultimate goal. It’s a shame, however, that they would give up on trying to foster that community in the present as well.