Reforming Brown’s Graduate School

On April 18, 2014 the Graduate School sent notices to students regarding the results of their Dissertation Completion Proposals (DCP), Brown’s application for sixth-year funding for Ph.D. students in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This year, 81 people applied for support in their 6th year and the graduate school only had funding for around 40 spots. In addition to the 81 6th-year applications, a number of students going into their 7th year also applied for support in the form of tuition remission and health care. These students are not allowed to request stipend support from the graduate school. Students were either waitlisted or not contacted by the graduate school, and many of these students were international students whose visas depend on having full student status. Since April 18th, departments have scrambled for funds to ensure their individual students will be covered, making up for the Graduate School’s failure to plan ahead and support the students it admitted five and six years ago.

The situation facing current rising 6th and 7th year graduate students requires both immediate resolution and broad systemic change to ensure it is not repeated. It is also only one of many ways graduate students at Brown University lack the protections necessary to graduate with quality degrees that make them competitive on their respective job markets. While important differences exist between both those pursuing Ph.D.s in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Life Sciences and Physical Sciences and those pursuing MAs, we all have a vested interest in making sure that Brown supports and prioritizes its graduate students. We feel that the most current situation regarding funding of advanced students communicates a complete disregard for the realities facing graduate students in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In both this issue and others that threaten to negatively impact graduate study at Brown, we are committed to making sure that all graduate students benefit from their experience here as much as the University benefits from our research, teaching, mentoring, and scholarship.

When you sign this petition, President Paxson will receive a letter explaining our concerns and asking for improvements. Join us in standing up for graduate students and ask Brown to sign onto the following principles:

1) VARIATIONS IN TIME-TO-DEGREE

The average time to degree varies across disciplines. Statistics indicate that the national average time to complete a Ph.D. is seven years in the sciences, and nine years in the humanities.[1] The Graduate School continues to deny these facts in favor of forcing all Humanities and Social Sciences disciplines into a five year time-to-degree.

2) HIGH QUALITY SCHOLARSHIP

As Brown works to grow its Graduate School and recruit top-quality applicants it must prepare to financially support the high quality scholarship produced by both current and future students. Producing innovative scholarship often requires not only more than five years of funding, but economic support in the form of increased research, conference, and travel fund opportunities.

3) COMPETITIVE JOB PLACEMENT

By treating funding beyond the fifth year as a reward rather than a necessity, the Graduate School ignores the reality that students in good standing from many disciplines require more than five years in order to produce work that will enable them to be competitive on the job market. The reputation of Brown’s Graduate School depends not only on its ability to attract top graduate students, but also on their successful placement in their field after receiving their degree.

4) TRANSPARENCY

There was an unacceptable lack of transparency around the decision-making and announcement process. There needs to be greater transparency in the criteria the Graduate School uses to determine “meritorious” applications across disciplines. Furthermore, students were waiting for weeks in limbo, unsure if they’d be able to finish the program to which they’ve dedicated five years of hard work or need to find alternative sources of income, health insurance, etc.

5) SUPPORT INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

While all graduate students are negatively affected by the lack of transparency from the Graduate School, we acknowledge the additional precarity felt by international students. The delay in informing applicants about the outcome of their funding beyond the fifth year makes deportation an imminent possibility for international graduate students and also makes it extremely difficult to make progress on their dissertations under such economic uncertainty.

6) OUR INTEGRAL ROLE IN THE BROWN COMMUNITY

More than half of our PhD programs require teaching undergraduate courses as a condition of our funding. Through our work as teaching assistants and instructors, we provide quality education to thousands of undergraduates. Graduate students help make Brown a world-class university. We also perform cutting-edge research projects that sustain innovation and help generate lucrative grant dollars.

Sign the petition, join the Facebook group, and follow the Tumblr campaign !

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