February 20, 2009

Erroneous e-mail promises graduate aid cuts, alarming current students

Graduate students in the English department were alarmed earlier this week by an e-mail announcing that the department would offer half as many dissertation write-up fellowships next year due to new funding rules about imposed by the University as a result of the economic crisis.

“We wanted to let all of you know about recent changes in funding that will affect fellowship awards for next year and the year after,” William Weaver, English department coordinator, wrote in the e-mail. “In response to the economic crisis, the University has implemented new rules about the ways departments may use endowment and gift accounts. The new rules limit the number of dissertation fellowships we can offer.” Weaver wrote that the usual seven fellowships would be cut to perhaps four, in a year in which the department expects more applications than usual.

But Martha Roth, dean of the Humanities Division, called the e-mail “misleading, premature, and without basis.”

Roth said that she did not expect that fellowships available in the Humanities division would decrease. “The truth is that the number of dissertation write-up fellowships will be the same. They’re always competitive. They’re never gimmes,” she said.

“There are not any official rules yet,” she said. “The University is facing the same financial crisis as the rest of the world and attempting to understand how we can best weather this crisis. They’re trying to understand what we can do about endowments, and how we can use it going forward. So we will have a significantly smaller amount of money available, and those decisions have not yet been made.”

She added, “What I believe happened is that the English department wanted to explain to graduate students at the dissertation writing phase that they should wait and see how many dissertation write-up awards are going to be available next year and the year after that.... They were trying to sound a note of caution to their students.”

Toussaint Losier, Student Government’s vice president for student affairs, commented that the miscommunication on the subject was symptomatic of a larger problem in discussions of upcoming budget cuts. “What the English department did in communicating to its students is what a lot of departments are not doing,” he said. “At the end of the day what really needs to happen is some sort of dialogue and conversation by graduate students and students as a whole about these budget cuts that are being proposed.”