Response to Provost’s Decision on AR Tuition

On February 25th, 2010, the administration released the “Provost’s Response to Graduate Education Committee Reports”. It is available here. We encourage you to consult the Provost’s Response and read the administration’s decision concerning issues of grave importance to students: unfair AR tuition burdens, teaching eligibility, and (the lack of) increased funding for dissertation writing periods. The Provost’s Response is a reply to a number of student-faculty committees that provided reasonable — though excessively modest — recommendations for improving the graduate student experience and enabling us to continue to produce top-quality academic research.

Graduate Students United is profoundly disappointed by Provost Rosenbaum’s decision to ignore the Advanced Residency and Time to Degree Committee’s most crucial recommendations, including virtually all the recommendations that were designed to ease the financial burden of AR tuition. Over the past year, students, faculty and administrators have dedicated many hours working on the Advanced Residency and Time to Degree Committee, attended open forums to offer helpful suggestions, and took the time to share their deeply personal stories of financial burden and stress. Just this past week over 180 graduate students personally sent e-mails to Provost Rosenbaum, expressing the need for the administration to go beyond the Committee’s recommendations by removing AR tuition entirely.

With the release of the Provost’s Response on February 25, 2010, it is now clear that this good faith effort and trust in the University’s official procedures was in vain. Rosenbaum has taken the route of least financial flexibility and least administrative effort. The decision to ignore all of the Advanced Residency and Time to Degree Committee’s most substantial recommendations has shocked even the most cynical students amongst us. We are confronted with two questions: Why did we work on this process for over 1.5 years if the administration never had any intention of ratifying the key recommendations of the Committee? And why should we bother ever again to trust that such a process will result in fair treatment?

The current $2,352 AR fee has been acknowledged to reflect years of arbitrary increases above the rate of inflation. The Provost’s Response makes no attempt to justify why graduate students, who contribute immensely through labor and intellectual production, are expected to shoulder an increasingly large portion of the University’s operating costs, and suggests that AR fees will continue to annually rise at the unsustainable rate of 5% after this meager freeze, affecting doctoral students for many years to come. With respect to AR tuition, the only tangible result of the Provost’s Response is a series of self-help seminars that encourage students to take on increased debt loads in a time of deep uncertainty both within the academic job market and the wider economy. This is irresponsible. The administration has apparently decided that we are here as pure consumers, and high AR tuition levels combined with a lack of health care in years 6+ fails to acknowledge the many hours that AR students spend to spread the University’s good name across our academic disciplines and our work internally to build a vibrant campus.

Moreover, despite the claim that “[i]n considering the recommendations of the AR Committee we have paid special attention to the challenges faced by doctoral students not covered by the GAI” (pg. 2), the Provost’s Response contains not a single decision that will benefit pre-GAI students in a targeted fashion. Both competitive $4,500 AR fellowships and increasing dissertation write-up fellowships (AR Committee recommendations #3b and #3c) are completely ignored. The response is very vague on how the administration is going to addresses the issue of better oversight and greater transparency, which is one of the strong points of the Committee’s report (recommendations #9-11). The provost’s response proposes hardly any tangible changes. Further, in lieu of the decision to eliminate the extended residency status, the provost’s response is completely silent regarding demands for the availability of administrative leaves for students who may need to interrupt their programs for a variety of reasons.

Finally, despite much discussion in the Provost’s Response of the “economic climate”, it is worth remembering that AR tuition constitutes much less than 0.15% of the University’s total operating budget. However, it can consume as much as 25% of the average graduate student’s living expenses.

Graduate Students United calls on Provost Rosenbaum to rescind his decision and live up to the University’s own standards of policy formation by taking seriously the recommendations of the committee that he himself formed.

But we also call on students to take charge of the vibrant university that they thanklessly help create on an everyday basis. For the past 3 years we have, with mixed results, tried to bring our fellow graduate students to a level of economic security that is in line with peer institutions. We have placed trust in the processes and committees that the administration preferred. We have given up countless hours attending forums, explaining our dilemmas, and waiting patiently for reform as we take on increased debt loads.

The Provost’s calculated decision to ignore his own appointed committee magnifies two simple facts: he believes we have no power on this campus, and without a united, strong voice, we really don’t. But we do have a means to change this. Graduate Students United calls on our fellow students to do what we should have done 3 years ago, before this elaborate process of committee after committee…

It is time to unionize.

—Graduate Students United