Following days of student protests, graduate students and administrators packed Barus and Holley 166 Tuesday night to discuss sixth-year funding for grad students as well as the future of the Graduate School.
President Christina Paxson and Dean of the Graduate School Peter Weber held the event to offer students a space to discuss the issues they have been raising over the past two weeks.
Students picketed in front of Paxson’s house last Wednesday night to protest the denial of funding to some grad students seeking to complete a sixth year.
Since then, grad students have created a petition and held “work party” protests, in which students completed homework while holding picket signs.
At the meeting, Weber said grad student funding this year was particularly challenging, because the applicant pool was larger and each student asked for more time overall than in previous years.
Currently over 90 percent of students who applied have received sixth-year funding, while no international students remain unfunded, Weber added.
Only two students who applied for seventh-year funding are unfunded, but it is likely they will receive funding, said Brian Walton, associate dean of administration and program development.
“I think we live in extremely challenging times and you are experiencing what the whole world is experiencing,” said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15, adding that students must accept the “uncertainty in the career you have chosen.”
Humanities and social sciences students made up the majority of the discussion’s attendees.
Paxson said students’ concerns about sixth-year funding are relevant to the future of the Grad School and graduate education nationwide.
When growing and strengthening a grad school, “there are trade-offs,” Paxson said.
Paxson said she believes improving the quality of support in years one through five — by increasing stipends and summer funding — will help Brown compete with its peer institutions.
“None of our peer institutions guarantee sixth-year funding,” Paxson said.
But some grad students said they are more concerned about job placement after graduation than about higher stipends, adding that sixth-year funding gives students more time to write dissertations that can land them jobs.
Many grad students are currently dissatisfied with the Dissertation Completion Proposal process — the procedure by which those seeking to extend their studies beyond five years apply for funding. But Weber said he originally created DCPs to address grad students’ concerns.
Before the DCP process was created, “there was a lot of nervousness and anxiety” among grad students because there was little information about fifth-year funding and no formal application, Weber said.
Weber said he met with grad students to discuss fifth-year funding before implementing the DCP process.
“The DCP process we implemented is a direct outcome of these conversations we have had,” Weber said.
But Sara Matthiesen GS, who participated in the DCP discussions, said she is not convinced that students’ opinions were sufficiently taken into account.
One student in attendance said the DCP process’ “one-size-fits-all approach” to evaluating students’ merit runs contrary to Brown’s “sense of community” by causing students “to fight against each other for funding.”
Weber said factors such as departmental recommendations, publications and conference attendance are considered when evaluating an applicant’s merit.
Both students and administrators said there needs to be more communication between administrators and academic departments to address the diversity of departmental needs.
A grad student in the French studies program said the undergraduate teaching responsibilities of language departments make it nearly impossible to complete a PhD in five years.
“There are quite a number of programs, particularly in the humanities, whose curriculum can’t be done in five or six years,” Schlissel said. “Sometimes even the most ambitious student can’t finish in five years.”
Administrators need to work with departments to adjust their curricula so five-year completion is more feasible, he said.
But one student said putting “fifth-year pressure” on faculty members could be detrimental to students’ learning.
“This is the beginning of a conversation,” Weber said at the end of the meeting. “We learned a lot today, but we aren’t at the point where we can make final calls about what we are going to do. We will take this to the department chairs.”
Caroline Kory GS told The Herald that administrators’ listening and learning is not enough.
“I wish they had made commitments about moving forward on this issue,” she said.