Whither Our Trajectory? Quick Takes on the UChicagoGRAD Rebranding

Earlier this week, we learned that the good old Office of Graduate Student Affairs has been rebranded as UChicagoGRAD. This relabeled administrative entity is being described by the Provost as “a new office and comprehensive program designed to make resources for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars more accessible and more effective.”

This all sounds good, and we wish to congratulate the the office on its rebranding. We don’t all love the weighty double-portmanteau of the office’s new name, but those of us familiar with Grad Student Affairs are very glad for the help of the people who work there. Many of us have benefited greatly from their services, whether Brooke Noonan’s fellowship advice or A-J’s help with cover letters. The other staffers are, by and large, exceptionally kind and competent people.

Still, we wonder: what does the change mean in more structural terms? For one thing, it clearly reflects a shift in administrative priorities, as “improving the graduate student experience” has become a major focus. At first blush, this sounds like a great thing for all of us. But as one GSU member (alias: Saucy Salamander) observed, that may not be the case:

My sense of these expanding professionalization services is that they are pushing the division of have and have-nots upstream into the graduate student experience. Although they are promising  services for all-stages, most of the programs they are rolling out are geared towards job placement (mostly academic job placement, but increasingly elsewhere), and thus preparing their most competitive students to compete with other top school’s most competitive students.  Advanced PhD students are already staffing a lot of the services that GSA are providing, trapping those students in underpaying jobs designed to help their peers move faster through the program. Taken to one logical conclusion, the underfunded will essentially provide support to the over-funded students, reproducing features of the tenure/adjunct divide at an earlier stage.

Another aspect of the rebranding that deserves remark is that the number of staff has been considerably expanded: the provision of services to grad students now encompasses more full-time administrative posts than ever before. Another GSU member (alias: Pointed Parrot) wondered if the expanded services will benefit graduate students at all:

I suspect the real reason such programs are being created is that they justify further administrative expansion. What [the provost’s] email in fact announces is not the provision of new services, but rather a reorganization of existing services in such a way as to justify new hires: we now have “a to-be-named Director of Graduate Enrollment,” a “Director of Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Experience,” etc.

The sassiest response of all came from someone in Anthropology, of course:

Friends, I think it’s time to celebrate. Our demands have been met in the form of a new office that will “capitalize on the upward trajectory of graduate students and postdocs”: I think they mean us

What do you think? Are you offended by being capitalized on, or are you mainly just relieved that someone thinks your trajectory is upward?

(See here for further thoughts on the matter.)