University News

Grad students oppose work limit

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

 

The Graduate Council is currently deliberating whether or not to enforce a controversial provision that recommends graduate students who are receiving stipends from the University work no more than 20 hours per semester outside of their University-funded appointments. While the enforcement was set to begin this fall, student and faculty opposition to the measure has led deans to postpone the enforcement pending the Graduate Council’s decision.

In the current edition of the Graduate Student Handbook, which outlines the University’s official policies and procedures for grad students, “it is recommended” that stipend-supported grad students limit working hours at outside jobs and University positions to which they are not appointed to 20 hours per semester, which translates to 1.5 hours per week. Many stipend-supported students hold University-appointed positions such as teaching assistantships and research fellowships, though these are not limited under this provision.

Graduate school officials recently decided to fully enforce the handbook’s provision as a rule. Peter Weber, dean of the graduate school, said the decision to enforce the provision sprung from the need to correct repeated instances where graduate students holding outside jobs failed to inform deans or their departmental directors.

“This is existing policy,” Weber said, adding that the University gives “a very generous package” of financial assistance to doctoral students. “There’s no new policy here,” he said.

But the decision to interpret the provision as a rule rather than a recommendation has sparked spirited opposition, leading a group of graduate students to start an online petition opposing the proposal to enforce the 20 hour-per-semester limit. The petition had garnered 335 signatures as of press time.

Student concerns

“The policy change really threatens the ability of many graduate students to be at Brown,” said Brooke Lamperd GS, one of the organizers who started the petition campaign this summer. Lamperd said enforcing the provision would affect all graduate students, especially first-generation and “nontraditional” students who are financially dependent on non-University jobs. 

“Supplementing our paltry stipends with work that is relevant to our fields … is not only important for us professionally … it’s also important for students to supplement their stipends and make ends meet,” said Samuel Franklin GS. “A policy like this would really make it difficult for someone who’s not of independent means to get by as they traditionally have.” 

Petition organizers voiced their opposition over the last few months to members of the Graduate Student Council, which subsequently obtained Weber’s agreement to suspend enforcement of the provision and submit the issue for consideration by the Graduate Council, a governing board overseeing academic matters. The Graduate Council, which includes administrators, faculty members and students, held its first meeting Sept. 18 to discuss the provision and will continue deliberating throughout the fall, said Matteo Riondato GS, president of the Graduate Student Council and a member of the Graduate Council.

“We are discussing whether these recommendations should be changed and what they should be changed to in the Grad Council,” said Riondato, adding that he has received significant feedback on the issue from members of the graduate students’ listserv.

He and other members of the GSC are currently drafting their own recommendation to present to the Graduate Council Oct. 3. He said the GSC was considering a number of options to endorse, including modifying the proposal or removing it entirely from the Graduate Student Handbook.

Riondato added that he personally believed the provision is a recommendation, not a rule, and that the graduate students’ petition contains strong arguments against enforcing the work hour limit. 

“I am very happy that there are students outside the GSC that are involved in making sure this very important matter is taken care of and publicized,” he said.

The GSC plans on maintaining close communication with Weber throughout the ongoing deliberations, wrote GSC Vice President Jaclyn Murphy GS in an email to The Herald. “Meanwhile, we welcome the additional efforts by other members of the graduate community to keep the issue at the forefront of public attention among the student body and the wider Brown community,” Murphy wrote.

Conflicting accounts

The proposal to enforce this provision arose after the Graduate Council learned of numerous cases in which students violated the existing policy by not consulting deans or their directors of graduate studies, Weber said. “These rules were not followed,” he said.

But petition signatories disputed Weber’s claim that administrators are simply enforcing an existing rule. 

Lamperd wrote in an email to The Herald that the graduate school did not notify any students or directors of graduate studies of what she labeled a “change in policy.” While the provision is in the handbook, it does not appear to have been enforced in the past.

“The only reason that graduate students found out is that a dean leaked the information to a graduate student who then publicized it over the graduate student listserv,” wrote Lamperd, who did not disclose the names of the dean or graduate student involved in the leak. Lamperd said the graduate school decided to delay implementing the enforcement only after opposition emerged from administrators, faculty members and students over the summer.

Rachel Gostenhofer GS, a petition signatory, said she has worked in the Writing Center and at other jobs in order to fulfill her financial obligations. She said it was “absolutely appalling” that the University would consider enforcing the limit on outside work hours.

But other graduate students said they felt the graduate school had listened to their concerns. “Dean Weber is completely open to changing the rules and doing whatever the students feel would be necessary,” said Lulu Tsai GS, adding that though she signed the petition, she had faith in the ability of administrators to resolve the dispute.

Many faculty members are among the 335 signatures secured by petition organizers so far. James Green, professor of history and Brazilian studies, said he received a copy of the petition two weeks ago and decided to pass it on to many of his colleagues after signing it.

“It seems unwise to limit the possibility of graduate students to earn additional income,” said Green, adding that he disagreed with the notion that graduate students who work more than 1.5 hours a week underperform academically or do not finish their dissertations in a timely manner. “When I was a graduate student at (University of California at Los Angelos), I had to work because I simply couldn’t pay my bills.”

If the University chooses to enforce the limit on working outside jobs, many lower-income students who cannot afford to take out more loans will be unable to finish graduate school, Green said. He added that he felt students often benefited from learning to juggle their time between research and working.

“My experience has been that those grad students who’ve had to work part-time have also been very successful at being grad students,” Green said.

Weber said he was open to the Graduate Council’s upcoming decision on the issue, stressing that he believed the governing board should listen to all constituencies and carefully deliberate regarding how to proceed. He added that he hoped a decision would come by December but acknowledged the council may take longer to settle the matter if necessary.

 

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