May 5, 2009

Budget cuts hit Social Sciences nad Humanities divisions

While the Physical and Biological Sciences Divisions are still accepting about the same number of graduate students, smaller departments in the Social Sciences Division and the Humanities Division are scrambling to adjust to fewer students as budget cuts for the coming academic year limited the number of graduate acceptance letters sent out this spring.

Differences in how the physical, biological, and social sciences, and humanities are funded contributed to variations in how each division will be affected by the 25 percent budget cuts next year. A large portion of physical and biological science funding for graduate students comes from research grants from the government or private foundations, according to Richard Hefley, Dean of Students for the Physical Sciences division. There are fewer outside sources of funding to supplement what the University allots to the humanities and social sciences, Hefley said.

The Humanities Division reduced the size of its incoming graduate class by 25 to 30 percent, according to Martha Roth, dean of the Humanities. Units within her division were offered a choice between admitting additional graduate students and hiring new faculty.

Roth stressed that the decreases would have a limited effect on the Humanities Division. “We expect that it will not have a significant impact on [teaching] and we hope to be going back up in the number of students that we are admitting the following year,” Roth said.

With a smaller faculty, fewer students, and fewer classes offered than larger departments, smaller departments in the Humanities Division have less flexibility in redistributing resources.

“It’s been something that has shaped people’s decisions and has forced a lot of difficult but certainly productive conversations,” said Lenore Grenoble, director of graduate studies in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature, which decided to admit fewer students. “It was a hard decision to make but the Slavic department has felt that it really needs to build its faculty right now; we are short-staffed.”

The Slavic Languages and Literature department, which for the past two years has had an entering class of about six students, will have at most one student matriculating next year.

“It is going to have an impact next year and we are trying to see it as an opportunity to rethink our curriculum and are trying to use it to our advantage,” Grenoble said. “None of the faculty are happy about it, because teaching is a huge part of our mission. We are hoping it is just a one year blip.”

To help alleviate the need for language instructors, the department will be hiring a language lecturer next year and will employ a combination of graduate student instructors and hired lecturers.

The Physical Sciences Division cut three teaching assistants and accepted slightly fewer students, according to Nobuko McNeill, physics Ph.D. coordinator.

The Physical Sciences Division also froze graduate stipends. “We are not going to be able to make the kind of increase [usually three to four percent per year] in student salaries and support that we have made from year to year. It will remain static next year,” said Hefley.

A few programs received more applications than last year, namely the graduate economics program and some of the professional masters programs. The Physical Sciences Division reported an increase in applications to its masters programs in computer science and financial mathematics. “It clearly has something to do with people trying to make their resumes more attractive and to open wider opportunities in the work world,” Hefley said.

Hefley echoed the fears of other department heads. “We are hoping this is just a stop-gap year, but if this isn’t the case we might have to think about cutting back in places,” he said.