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President, provost hear grad students’ concerns

Graduate school funding and prominence were primary concerns presented by the GSC

Graduate School departmental metrics, graduate student summer funding and improving the Graduate School’s image surfaced as dominant issues at Wednesday’s Graduate Student Council meeting, which featured President Christina Paxson and other top administrators.

Provost Mark Schlissel P’15, Dean of the Graduate School Peter Weber and Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn also attended the meeting, which was held in response to Paxson’s recently released strategic plan.

A six-member graduate student committee — formed following the plan’s release — drafted a resolution that addressed each part of the plan as it related to graduate student priorities, said Keila Davis GS, GSC president. Paxson, Schlissel and Weber were sent a preliminary draft of the resolution prior to yesterday’s meeting.

Schlissel commented during the meeting, which took place in the Graduate Student Lounge, that he was displeased with the wording of the resolution, adding that he was “depressed” after reading it.

“I feel like the graduate students are the faculty’s colleagues,” he said. “The resolution sounded like an angry group making a series of demands.”

He said that while the concerns of the resolution, which students largely voiced in the forum, were valid, he thought the language used in the document could have been more “collaborative” in nature.

In her presentation, Paxson said the plan is intended to “build Brown” in regard to the University’s mission and culture. She stressed increasing graduate student funding in order to compete with peer institutions, incorporating technology into graduate student studies and producing “scholarship that contributes to the University’s reputation for research.”

Paxson, Schlissel and Weber then took questions from the approximate 30-person audience, which included both master’s and doctoral candidates.

Matthew Lyddon GS, former GSC president, voiced concerns over doctoral student funding, particularly for international students in the summer. He said summer funding for such students has remained stagnant at $2,500 since 2009 and noted that the added cost of travel for international students leaves little of the stipend to fund research.

Similar concerns were written in the committee’s resolution draft, which stated that the strategic plan mentioned only faculty travel and conference expenses, not those of graduate students.

Paxson said the issue was valid but responded that solving it would be a “matter of raising the funds.” She added that travel funding should be paramount for the Graduate School to match other universities.

Graduate students also expressed concern over passages in the strategic plan discussing Graduate School departmental metrics.

A PhD candidate in Africana studies said she was worried that no “feedback mechanism” existed for students to respond to how their departments should be best evaluated. Others were concerned that the funding for conference travel would not rise enough to meet climbing departmental expectations, which would inform administrative evaluations of Graduate School departments.

Schlissel said that going forward, each department should be evaluated individually, and the metric system for each should be “tailor-made.” He added that student feedback should be delivered through program heads so they can communicate with Weber to express concerns.

A common thread of discussion at the forum was the lack of Graduate School awareness, both locally and internationally. Concerns were raised over the disjointed graduate student community on campus and the fact that some people “don’t even know Brown has a grad school,” as Schlissel said.

Weber called the Graduate School’s lack of visibility problematic but said departmental programs could be excelling more than their reputations imply, as reputation often “lags” behind merit.

Schlissel added that creating a strong media campaign centered on advancements in graduate student research could increase awareness, both on campus and nationally.

“If you have stories, great things you are doing, then get in touch with me or media relations, and we’ll spotlight that,” Quinn said.

After meeting with Paxson, Schlissel and Weber, the GSC created a new committee to revise the resolution and address the administrators’ concerns with the initial draft. The updated version of the resolution will be voted on remotely by GSC members and presented to Paxson, Schlissel, Weber and the Corporation at the University’s Corporation meeting Oct. 24, when Corporation members will vote on the final draft of Paxson’s strategic plan.



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