University News

Grad students, admins meet about funding

Discussion comes after student protests against denial of sixth-year funding

By
Senior Staff Writer

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.

  • guest

    “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.” This is absolutely not true (and I do not believe Walton meant this). No 7th year student received funding. I do not believe any even received health insurance.

    • guest2

      That’s accurate. What Dean Walton indicated was that all but two of the 7th years’ applications had been processed, and the “funding” that they got was a tuition waiver (not that any PhD student would stay in grad school if they had to pay $46K for it) and access to Brown’s health services building, but no living stipend or health insurance.

  • Mr.Kennedy

    “None of our peer institutions guarantee sixth-year funding, Paxson said.” Yes, but none of them make grad students anxious about funding, especially when they are already under tons of stress due to the hardship of finishing their dissertations, and finding a job in an extremely competitive job market. Brown already provides a stipend large enough to live somewhat comfortably. And, no prospective student expects a luxury life in grad school and makes a decision based on a 1K increment in stipend levels. Rather, they choose based on the quality of doctoral education, impact of the research undergone in a department, and the presence of some leading figures in their particular research areas. Here is what Brown should do:
    1. Graduate school should support all 6th year grad students in good condition, without any delay.
    2. There should not be any pressure on grad students to finish in 5 years. Instead, all departments, especially those in social sciences, should encourage and create resources for grad student publications. Even one writes a spectacular dissertation and have his/her PhD in 5 years, he/she is not going to have any chance in the job market, WITHOUT PUBLICATIONS. Getting published is the key to R1 tenure-track jobs, and grad students cannot have publications under their belt if they are in a rush to finish in 5 years. Why should Brown invest in a longer time to degree? Because it enables grads getting published and to have a better chance in the job market. Grad placements are the primary indicator of success for any research institution.
    3. Generate endowed professorships in social sciences and humanities. These professorships can boost Brown’s position in grad school rankings and reputation.

    • confused

      How does 3. relate at all to the overall success of the grad school? Do science professors not matter?

  • critical reader

    I find that this article disproportionately presents the administration’s position. Apart from running simply more quotes from administrators than grad students, it also runs quotes that contain misleading figures, without presenting challenges to those figures that were raised by grad students during the meeting. A reader who was not present is likely to get an inaccurate idea of the issue.

    • BrownGS16

      For example, there’s this quotation: “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.” This is incredibly misleading! The Provost said that only two students have not been notified of their funding statuses–but that doesn’t mean that the rest of been funded. In fact, many did not receive health insurance, which is unprecedented.

  • SMH

    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.”

    Uhh, welcome to the real world?

    • guest

      In the real world, Italian Studies Ph.D.s are not competing with Sociology Ph.D.s for the same jobs. At Brown, they are competing for funding from the same limited pool, and are evaluated alongside each other.