Grad School optimistic amid crunch

Friday, February 6, 2009

Members of the Graduate School community are attempting to roll with the punches in light of the campus-wide e-mail sent last week by President Ruth Simmons, announcing large-scale reductions to university expenditures.

The e-mail outlined a plan to postpone “the planned growth of the Graduate School,” in reaction to the financial crisis and to “reduce expenditures, constrain expansion and limit major new obligations” for the entire Brown community.

Simmons had made grad school expansion an important component of the Plan for Academic Enrichment in 2001. But in her e-mail, she wrote that she anticipates “essentially no growth in the number of doctoral students matriculating each year” and “little or no increase in the base graduate student stipend for the next few years.”

Sheila Bonde, dean of the Graduate School, said before the economic crisis administrators had hoped for the increase in graduate students to catch up with faculty growth under the plan. Now, the Grad School will try to keep the number of admitted doctoral candidates stable. It is in administrative areas where Bonde said “we’re trying to tighten our belts.”

The grad school receives approximately 7,300 applications a year, according to Brian Walton, associate dean of Finance and Administration. Bonde said the number of applications is double what it was seven or eight years ago, adding that she estimates that those feeling the impact of the financial crisis the most are those applying for admission.

But even with this leveling off in admissions, a slight growth can be expected in the humanities, thanks to a $3-million endowment grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant will support as many as 14 additional students over the next five years, according to a university statement released in October. The gift will also allow for new interdisciplinary seminar offerings.

Though graduate stipends will not increase, the financial crisis, which has also hit other universities, is unlikely to affect Brown’s ability to attract applicants, Bonde said.

The Grad School will apply for grants and seek funding from the federal stimulus package to mitigate the effects of the downturn, she added.

Elena Daniele GS said she thinks current graduate students will be largely unaffected by the crisis, adding that they are guaranteed funding for their first five years at Brown.

But Daniele, who is in her second year in the Italian Studies department, said graduate students could face difficulty in securing funding for summer research and could have to look for other jobs.

Professor of Italian Studies Massimo Riva, who organizes summer projects, said he has not heard that support for research will decrease under the University’s cost-cutting measures. In any case, he said he can use his available research funds to pay graduate students for Web projects or other work rather than to buy a new computer for his department.

Riva said he has noticed a “protective attitude” toward graduate students. “At this time I would like to reassure them that there is no reason for alarm.”

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