Grad students keep up calls for funding

By Dan Lambert

In the midst of an ongoing funding dispute, graduate students on campus have started organizing in the hope of building a coalition to address last year’s announced changes in graduate student funding and broader issues of labor rights.

The University announced an aid package in early February aimed at lessening the financial burdens placed on entering Ph.D. students in the humanities, social sciences, and the Divinity School. Most graduate students entering the University this year were offered tuition aid, health insurance, a $19,000 annual stipend for living expenses, and two $3,000 grants for summer research. The plan also included a $1.5 million health insurance plan for all current graduate students.

However, controversy erupted when the plan was unveiled and students realized the vast disparity between the funding that would be available to future matriculates and the relatively meager health plans for those currently enrolled. Some graduate students expressed frustration with the University’s lack of communication with students throughout the plan’s formation.

“This aid initiative is good, but it is not as good as it could have been if we were involved in the process. Who knows the needs of grad students better than graduate students?” second-year graduate student in history Toussaint Losier said.

In response to questions about the disparity, Vice President and Dean of Students Kim Goff-Crews said in an e-mail that, “a committee of faculty, students, and staff was appointed to evaluate ways to enhance support for doctoral students not covered by the initiative. As far as I know an analysis is not complete.”

Graduate students have continued to push for funding in the past months. Two groups, Graduate Students United (GSU) and the Graduate Council Committee on Graduate Aid (GCCGA), have been formed to address the financial burdens of graduate students.

GSU, a coalition of students from numerous departments in the University, hopes to build a united front to lobby the University for improvements to the aid packages for current students. The organization currently has between 30 and 50 active members. GSU’s main objectives include health insurance for all University employees and remission of tuition fees for all graduate students beyond their fifth year who are not taking classes.

Currently all Ph.D. students in the humanities, social sciences and the Divinity School enrolled at the University but not taking classes are required to pay $997 per quarter in tuition and fees if they are not teaching in some capacity at the University.

Students also lament the relatively low teaching-assistant wage for University graduate students. The wage, which has remained the same for nearly a decade, is $1,500 a course. By comparison, Stanford University’s 2006-2007 T.A. wages were set at a minimum of $6,950 per quarter.

Joe Grim Feinberg, a fifth-year anthropology student and GSU member, said that increased financial support would greatly shorten the time it takes to complete a Ph.D. program.

“GSU is focused on the more long-term issues, beyond funding disparities; issues of institutional democracy,” said Feinberg.

Feinberg hopes that GSU will be able to recruit members throughout the University and push for broad institutional change involving both undergraduates and University employees.

“I do know that several graduate students have been working on this issue in conjunction with S.G.’s Graduate Council. We will continue to work, in partnership with other colleagues, faculty, the graduate liaison to the Board of Trustees and the Graduate Council, to ensure that various views of graduate students are a part of ongoing conversations about improving graduate student life,” Goff-Crews said in an e-mail.

The Graduate Council Committee on Graduate Aid (GCCGA), previously known as the ad hoc graduate funding group, was formed last year in the wake of February’s announcement and comprises about 30 members representing 14 departments in the humanities, social sciences, and the Divinity School.

The group gathered information through town hall meetings and a survey of graduate students. Nearly 800 students responded to the survey. The Committee’s current members cite the large response as indicative of the concern about equality of graduate student funding.

In May, three members of GCCGA’s ad hoc funding group presented President Robert Zimmer with a letter detailing the concerns voiced in meetings and through the survey. In response to that meeting, Zimmer and Provost Thomas Rosenbaum formed a Provost’s committee to handle graduate student concerns. The Working Group on Graduate Student Life in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Divinity School (WGGSL) is composed of three graduate students, three faculty members, and Martina Munsters, deputy dean of students in the University.

The WGGSL will submit a report to the provost and president at the end of this quarter. The three graduate students who sit on the committee will be co-authors of the report. However, one student member has cited some dissatisfaction with the ways in which the graduate student perspective have been articulated in the initial drafts of the report.

“The message from the University is in general that they are far more concerned with long-term findings, making us concerned that nothing will be done to target those who were left out,” said Jenn Gregory, a second-year graduate student in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and GCCGA member. Gregory said he fears that the issue of funding disparity will not be addressed by the administration in time for current graduate students to benefit.