April 3, 2007

Fund grad students fairly

It takes a special ability to make enemies while solving one of the University’s most glaring problems, yet the Administration has achieved this very feat. Although the recently announced $50 million aid package for incoming graduate students in the humanities and social sciences eliminates the financial disincentive associated with studying at the University of Chicago, the plan largely ignores the contributions of currently enrolled graduate students.

To the chagrin of current students, the University announced that incoming doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences will receive a six-year support plan that includes tuition, health insurance, a yearly stipend of $19,000, and two installments of $3,000 for summer research. The aid is intended to provide students with financial security, enabling them to concentrate on their studies. Current graduate students—who are teaching classes and conducting vital research—bemoan this disparity. They feel the Administration is taking their contributions for granted by focusing almost solely on recruitment.

Undoubtedly, the graduate student aid package is a much-needed improvement. Prospective students will no longer have to make economic sacrifices to enjoy the world-class scholarship conducted at the U of C, nor will they be lured away by the offers of peer institutions. In addition, $1.5 million from the aid package has been earmarked for current graduate students.

Nonetheless, the University has a responsibility to take better care of its own. The graduate students already at the U of C constitute the backbone of the institution, spearheading scholarship and often teaching in the College. If funds are available to improve the graduate student experience, those who have already labored to improve the community deserve due recompense. Instead, the Administration has devised a plan that alienates and undervalues these students. Such a strategy could have serious long-term consequences, lessening the likelihood that current graduate students will donate to an institution that deprived them of money in their time of need. Additionally, this type of treatment could actually deter prospective students, warning them that the Administration may ignore their concerns once they, too, are enrolled at the U of C.

Current graduate students also complain about a breakdown in communication, stating that the Administration failed to confer with them and solicit their views. This is a problem that has dogged President Zimmer, who continues to misunderstand the political significance that his job title implies. He needs to do a better job catering to his various constituencies, instead of alienating College students over issues like the Common Application and graduate students over financial aid.