About a week back I posted about some concerns that current Arts & Letters grad students had regarding the College's intent to radically restructure the funding stipends and workload. Today, a couple of us met with Dean McGreevy and Associate Dean Meserve of the College of Arts and Letters to present them with a petition with over 125 signatures, and discuss these concerns in person. In this blog post, I'll try to lay out the concerns we presented, and what the College's official response was. First, though, here's a link to the official document detailing the new funding structure (I'll refer back to this quite a bit):
Concern 1: Current Grad Students were Recruited with Funding Expectations that Have Now Changed
- Current students accepted their offers of admission based upon funding expectations that were explicitly friendly to -- or even presupposed -- longer completion trajectories, expectations that were reasonable given recent national and departmental averages. Funding norms in departments when we were recruited reinforced and were responsive to these expectations. For example: the Notre Dame Philosophy Department’s website currently says that students will be hired to teach on a 2-2 schedule after year 5.
- To give you a sense of what those expectations for humanities PhD students were when current 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th year students were recruited (not just as Notre Dame, but throughout the country) , looked like this:
Responses to Concern 1:
- Current students signed 5-year contracts, and were never guaranteed funding after those terms expired.
- PhD programs are, in general, trying to drive these numbers down, and Notre Dame wants to adopt a "more aggressive" strategy than most in doing so.
- These changes were announced in August 2014, and this gave departments more than enough time to restructure their requirements and communicate these to current grad students.
Concern 2: Current Students Created Timelines to Completion that Presupposed the Old Model
- It is widely acknowledged that the curricula in many programs are not designed to ensure completion by 5th year. Current students are in the position of having gone through that curricula, yet are expected to conform their trajectories to the new funding model--without receiving the new stipend and research fund benefits.
- Schedules to completion, which students have plotted out with their faculty advisers, no longer make sense if the current students are forced to accept the new scheme.
Response to Concern 2:
- The old model is bad for graduate students. Those who get out in 5 years are more likely to get jobs, and those who don't (and don't have extreme extenuating circumstances) are at a severe disadvantage.
- We need to make the changes sometime, why not right now? Especially given the fact that all students who needed it last year were granted 6th year "exceptional case" funding, and the College promises, once again, to be more lenient this year (though, after this year, "all bets are off" with regard to whether or not such funding will be awarded).
Concern 3: Current Graduate Students will be Expected to Abide by Stricter Standards, but Will Not Receive Additional Funding or Benefits
Response to Concern 3:
- Current graduate students are receiving additional benefits in the form of a reduced teaching load during their 5th and 6th years, guaranteed summer funding (for all their remaining years on stipend) , and a bigger pot of money to which they can apply (funds are being distributed for grad research and travel to departments and institutions like ISLA that will make it easier for grad students to receive additional funds that will aid quicker completions).
- Nothing has changed with regard to the contracts that we signed when recruited, so in this sense, we're not even owed the additional funds that are now being given.
- For 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years: those additional requirements weren't significant enough to justify more time to completion, and the remaining time on stipend funds is more than enough to restructure one's timeine to completion (with one's advisor), so there's not a serious worry here.
Dean McGreevy asked us to communicate with the signatories:
- That current 5th years would likely receive approval for additional time as "exceptional cases" (though that language will likely be changed).
- Also that the College sees the summer funding as a substantial way of offsetting any disadvantages we may perceive as part of the funding change.
- Also that more money would ultimately be available to graduate students in years 1-5, even if it wasn't in the form of individual research stipends or guaranteed funds (but would, rather, need to be applied for).
- Finally, that it is better for graduate students to teach less (as they would under the current proposal), and to finish more quickly (as they would need to under the current proposal), and that this would also be better for Notre Dame undergrads (since fewer of their Intro teachers, for instance, would be overworked grad student adjuncts).
- That the new policy adopted with regard to childbirth accomodations is actually better for students in Arts & Letters than was previously the case.
We came away surprised that:
- Worries about expectations regarding funding that reflected the norms and culture of departments at the time of recruitment were not seen as pressing.
- The College really thinks that all affected grad students are at an advantage under the proposed structure.
- There seems to be no intention to make accomodations for departments (or individual students) during the transition period at a systematic level (there was talk of individual cases being considered on a case-by-case basis).
- There wasn't much sympathy for the feeling that the proposed changes evinced a lack of commitment to & support for grad students who don't get jobs during their first or second time on the job market.
I have lots of other thoughts about this (for instance, in some ways, I think I better understand now why the College thinks that the new structure is actually to the advantage of, say, third and fourth year students), but first I want to hear more of your thoughts. Please take a moment to comment below to let us know: (1) whether this information clears up any confusion about the changes that you may have had, (2) assuages your worries about the proposed changes, and (3) seems beneficial (or at the very least fair) given your current situation. I believe you can do this anonymously, but if you're concerned about posting publicly, you can email me your responses to this at Paul.firstname.lastname@example.org