Provost to correct grad funding report

By Adrian Florido

Administrators plan to correct an error in the Provost’s Working Group report that overestimated the cost of extending graduate-student aid packages to all matriculated students by nearly $24 million. However, despite the admission of error, administrators close to the project maintain that the revised figures will not likely lead to increased funding for graduate students.

The provost’s office will work with the University’s Budget Office to recalculate all of the estimates put forward in the report and reissue accurate numbers, said Deputy Provost for Graduate Education Cathy Cohen.

“We have to acknowledge that there was a mistake in the numbers…and unfortunately no one in the Working Group caught the mistake,” Cohen said, adding that the Provost’s Office had also allowed the report to be issued without noticing the error.

In calculating the cost to the University of extending funding benefits to current graduate students, the Working Group failed to account for the significant drop in tuition that takes effect after graduate students progress into their fifth years of study at the U of C. By calculating the cost to these advanced resident students without differentiating from the cost of educating students in their first four years, the Working Group’s estimates inflated the cost to the University over the next four years to $57 million. The actual cost was closer to $33 million.

The mistake came to light when third-year graduate student Daragh Grant noticed the error in the report and independently recalculated the estimates. The revised numbers were presented to administrators earlier this week, who confirmed that they were correct.

The error was met with surprise by many graduate students, who have actively organized over the past year to pressure administrators to extend to all current students the Graduate Aid Initiative funding that was offered to incoming students beginning this year.

Yesterday students met on the main quad to reveal the results of an informal survey conducted by organizers to gauge student sentiment about administrators’ efforts to meet their funding needs.

“If the provost’s action steps had really concerned the needs and the concerns of graduate students, that would have demonstrated itself in this survey that we put together. Some people were happy…but there was also a good amount of frustration” expressed in the survey results, said history graduate student Toussaint Losier, who helped conduct it.

Since the mistake was uncovered, some students have called on the provost to reevaluate the plan that he announced last week to extend some funding benefits to current students.

“I think it is a continued unhappiness among students about what the action steps of the provost have been so far,” said Deputy Dean of Students in the University for Student Affairs Martina Munsters. “I’m not quite sure to what extent the number actually changes the reality of what the action steps should be from a student perspective,” she said in reference to the claim by some students that the lower cost estimate might have altered the amount of funding that the University was willing to offer.

“Here’s the reality for us: I think that whether it’s $54 million or $31 million…from my perspective, where I sit, $31 million is so much money,” Munsters said.

Still, students are promoting their efforts to get the provost’s plan reevaluated, especially in light of the error.

Erica Simmons, graduate student liaison to the Board of Trustees, drafted a brief summarizing the development for consideration by the Board when it meets in London early next week.

According to Cohen, administrators will continue exploring the possibility of improving the allocation of health insurance and teaching pay to graduate students and will also consider potential revisions to tuition charges for students beyond their fourth year of study.