University News

Poll: Faculty members name Graduate School as preferred U. priority

Over 15 percent of the faculty said financial aid should be prioritized, a Herald poll indicated

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
This article is part of the series Spring 2013 Faculty Poll

Nearly half of faculty members would like to see the Graduate School as the University’s top-priority project in the coming years, according to a poll conducted by The Herald earlier this month.

Over 45 percent of faculty members chose the Grad School in the poll. Around 16 percent of faculty members stated that financial aid should be prioritized, about 14 percent chose faculty diversity and roughly 5 percent selected the School of Engineering. The remaining one-fifth checked “other.”

The Grad School “has appeal across all departments, across all disciplines,” and it should receive more attention from the University, said Iris Bahar, professor of engineering and vice chair of the Faculty Executive Committee. FEC members have discussed the importance of better stipends and office space for graduate students as primary concerns, but they would also like to improve some of the research facilities and laboratories, Bahar said.

“The faculty leadership have been actively showing an interest in the levels of support for graduate students” and comparing current resources with students’ needs, said Matthew Lyddon GS, president of the Graduate Student Council. “I don’t think I’m surprised (by) the faculty support of the Graduate School” reflected in the poll, he said.

Lyddon said better stipends and more summer support for graduate students are areas in which the University should improve, especially if it wishes to continue attracting the best applicants.

Many faculty members said their own research is another reason they want the University to emphasize the Grad School.

“Most people become faculty because they are interested in research, and the Graduate School is the part of the University that’s most hooked into research,” said Nathaniel Baum-Snow, associate professor of economics.

As the University strives to become a stronger research-based institution, continuing to improve the Grad School is important, said Undergraduate Council of Students President Anthony White ’13. “I definitely expected them to prioritize the Graduate School,” he said.

Many students and professors said strengthening the Grad School confers advantages on the institution and on undergraduates, but others worried that too heavy a focus could detract from the undergraduate experience.

Bolstering the Grad School is beneficial to undergraduates because it affords them more research opportunities, White said. “A lot of undergraduates don’t realize the relationship between” the two, he added.

Attracting talented graduate students provides advantages for undergraduates because graduate students can become teaching assistants and allow for larger enrollments in popular classes, Lyddon said. Graduate students can also act as mentors for undergraduates, he added.

Lung-Hua Hu, senior lecturer in East Asian studies, said she was surprised at the high percentage of faculty that prioritized the Grad School, adding that having more TAs teach could take away from Brown’s reputation for fostering strong professor-student relationships. She said she would like the University to prioritize faculty diversity, which would help accommodate the growing number of students interested in various aspects of Asian studies.

“In the long term, strengthening the graduate program is going to be a good thing,” said Pheakdey Son ’15. He said it will be necessary for Brown to stay competitive as a top school, though it could take away from the undergraduate experience.

Catherine Jeong ’15 said  the University should establish a law school or business school if it wishes to become competitive in graduate education, but that other issues — such as faculty salaries and recruitment — are more pressing right now.

The top concern for most undergraduates is financial aid and expanding need-blind admission, White said. In a Herald spring 2012 poll, nearly three-quarters of students said they approved of the University expanding its graduate and professional programs. But in another question, about 38 percent of students said the most important issue for the new University president to focus on was increasing financial aid — far greater than the share of students who chose any other option.

Most faculty members support expanding financial aid, Bahar said, but may not have selected it as their top focus because “it doesn’t touch them as directly as it touches students — especially undergraduates.” She added that in her opinion, the University has made many great strides in need-blind admission and may need to turn its attention toward development in other areas.

Roughly equal percentages of humanities, sciences and social sciences professors said the University should prioritize the Grad School, though discipline seemed to influence faculty members’ likelihood of selecting each of the other categories.

In the Herald poll, a higher proportion of humanities professors than sciences or social sciences professors listed financial aid as a top priority. White attributed the results to the greater emphasis on research in the sciences and on undergraduate teaching in the humanities.

Hu said she has noticed that in the Departments of East Asian Studies and South Asian Studies, language teachers are often more concerned with faculty diversity, while those who teach literature or more research-based disciplines tend to discuss growth of the Grad School.

No professors outside of the sciences responded that they favored prioritizing the School of Engineering, according to the poll. Since engineering is just one facet of the University, it makes sense that people directly involved would be the ones to want it prioritized, Bahar said.

Emily Toomey ’15, an engineering concentrator, said she was surprised there was not more faculty interest in improving the School of Engineering, especially since it is the most popular intended concentration for incoming first-years. The school is making great headway in expanding, she said, adding that she hopes people outside of engineering are excited as well.

Hu listed faculty diversity as her top priority but said the School of Engineering it is a boon to the University, even if it requires extra funds from the University to get established.

Methodology:

Questionnaires were sent to the email accounts of faculty members and advertised on the faculty Morning Mail April 9. Only faculty that teach, advise or interact with undergraduate students were invited to respond, and 120 responses were recorded out of a population of 713. The poll has a 8.7 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. 

Find results of previous polls at thebdh.org/poll.