Welcome Back to Work!

Coursework, exam prep, TA duties, applying for funding, applying for jobs–the semester’s just getting started, but we need a break already! Take some time out to relax at Stand Up for Grad Students (SUGS) “back to work” social on Tuesday, September 23 from 7pm-9pm in the Grad Lounge. 
Do you have questions about your funding package, research support, teaching responsibilities, healthcare, or anything else about working, studying, and living in the Brown community? Come learn about SUGS’s ongoing projects, meet other grad students, ask questions, and share notes over pizza and beer. All grad students welcome!

SUGS Supports Brown’s Mailroom Workers

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Current mailroom employees have years of experience of managing difficult logistical challenges unique to the University mailing environment – such as sudden shifts in demand at the beginning of each semester. The mailroom pulls off a minor miracle each year keeping packages organized during peak times. In the short term, bringing in a new contractor right before the start of a new semester could be extremely problematic come September.

The current mailroom staff has worked tirelessly for many years to provide outstanding service to both students and faculty, far above the terms of their employment on many occasions. Once, a disabled student needed several heavy packages to move in on a Sunday. Her mother tried to get help from reslife, but failed. Ultimately, a mailroom employee who lived in walking distance of campus resolved the situation by taking three trips with a hand cart between the mailroom and the student’s dorm. Firing excellent staff in order to save on wages would be a mistake.

In the long-term, while Ricoh may hire existing mailroom employees on a temporary basis to train their workers, the mailroom workers we know and love would be unlikely to be retained in the long term, and their experience would be lost, resulting in a degradation of services for everyone. Right now, whenever we pick up a package, it is usually found in short order. Bringing in Ricoh may save the University on cost, but we will pay the penalty in increased wait times and lost mail.

SUGS Petitions President to Change the Process for Funding Advanced Grad Students

STAND UP FOR BROWN GRADUATE STUDENTS PETITION

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 PhD 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 the 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 years 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 PhDs 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.

[1]Council of Graduate Schools Resarch Report, http://www.cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/DataSources_2010_03.pdf

Work Parties Render Grad Student Labor Visible

On April 25th and 30th grad students brought their work to Faunce house.

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Wearing red and 5+ pins and buttressed by signs, we reminded students faculty and visitors to Brown that we work here!

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Grad students made themselves conspicuous in the reading areas and throughout the dining room — grading papers, reading for courses, and preparing for sections in public and in solidarity.

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Chronicle Covers Protest at President’s House

April 29, 2014

Brown Ph.D. Students Protest Policy That Puts Funds in Limbo After 5th Year

By Vimal Patel

Tension at Brown University over how Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences are financed in the later years of their programs fueled a series of protests on the campus last week, and administrators scrambled to secure money for students who were uncertain about how they would pay for their next year.

Doctoral students at Brown are guaranteed five years of tuition, health insurance, and a stipend starting at about $25,000 a year for living expenses. Starting in 2011, Brown began to require doctoral students in social-sciences and humanities fields to apply for continued support after their fifth year.

Many such students were notified this month that they had been put on a waiting list for funds. The move especially worried international students, many of whom were pressed against a deadline that could have forced them to leave the country if they didn’t secure enough money.

The concerns raised during the rallies at Brown highlight the uncertainties that Ph.D. students late in their programs often face as they struggle to keep up funds for projects in which they’ve invested years of their lives. Such worries could intensify as graduate-school budgets get tighter and universities seek ways to shorten the time to a doctorate.

About 80 students chanted and held signs outside the home of Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, last Wednesday. A smaller group gathered outside the student union on Thursday. Then, on Friday, students held a “work in” and worked on their dissertations in public to make a display about an activity they say often goes hidden from public view and for which they need adequate support to do well.

“I’d like Brown to commit to fully funding its graduate students for the amount of time they need to produce high-quality dissertations worthy of this school,” said John Mulligan, a sixth-year English Ph.D. student. “Everybody who is in good standing in their fifth year should get a sixth, if that’s how long their department thinks their degree should take to achieve.”

Peter M. Weber, dean of the graduate school, called the situation fluid. Numbers provided by Brown on Mondayshowed that just 11 of the 80 students who had applied for sixth-year stipend support were still on the waiting list as of last Wednesday. The university is still trying to piece together more sources of money to finance the remaining students, Mr. Weber said.

The new process, created in 2011, requires humanities and social-sciences students to apply for sixth-year funds by filling out a form called a “dissertation-completion proposal,” which asks students a series of questions like why they need more time and what their financial situation looks like. That change, Mr. Weber said, set out a clear, merit-based path where one didn’t exist before. Brown’s funding guarantee is “the gold standard,” he said, adding that he isn’t aware of peer institutions that offer a longer funding guarantee. Before, after the five years were up, Mr. Weber said, students were unclear about how to go about seeking sixth-year support.

“Overwhelmingly, both students and professors find this to be a very useful process,” Mr. Weber said. “It’s clear. There are deadlines. Students know exactly what they need to do to apply for stipend funding for another year.”

Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, said many universities were taking steps to improve time-to-degree for Ph.D. students, including in the humanities and social sciences, where average completion times are longer than in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

“Many universities have also implemented policies that are designed to use departmental resources more equitably,” Ms. Stewart said in an email. “One way of doing that is to ask students to demonstrate progress through program milestones before granting continued funding.”

Student Criticisms

Miquel Miralbes Del Pino, a philosophy Ph.D. student, applied this year for financial support for his sixth year. Mr. Miralbes, who is from Spain, said he was accepted to the philosophy Ph.D. program in 2009 and was consistently told from the start that if he was in good standing, he would receive sixth-year funding.

“This is important because no one has completed a Ph.D. in philosophy in five years since I’ve been to Brown,” he said in an email. “That’s just not how the program is structured, and the tough job market keeps increasing the requirements to find a job: conferences, publications, classes taught, and so on.”

So last month, Mr. Miralbes said, he submitted his dissertation-completion proposal, treating it as a formality. “The questions, however, are phrased as if needing more than five years was an abnormality and a failure,” he said. “The whole process was humiliating.”

He worried about whether he would have to leave the country. He’s not sure if he’s legally allowed to work in the United States outside Brown, and even if he is, the required paperwork would take months. He was relieved to learn on Thursday that his funding had come through.

Ph.D. students have created a website about the dissertation-completion proposal in which they hold up responses on pieces of paper to some of the questions it asks.

In response to the question about why extra time is needed, one student wrote, “I have not won the lottery. I have no wealthy relatives. I work better when I have food and a place to live. I pay out of pocket for my research. I want to finish what I started, and what I started takes six years.”

Singled Out

One protester, Sara Matthiesen, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in American studies, said she believed administrators eventually wanted to do away with funding beyond the fifth year for humanities and social-sciences students, and were “testing the water” to see how upset people would be—a concern voiced by others, too.

“This is the first message we’re getting that we’re moving to that model,” Ms. Matthiesen said, “whether we like it or not.”

Mr. Weber said more students were put on a waiting list this year simply because more students applied for the sixth year of funds than in the past and the university had to locate additional money. The total dollar amount those applicants asked for increased by 39 percent from a year ago, to $5.5-million.

Brown singled out doctoral students in the social sciences and humanities for this process, Mr. Weber said, because they are more dependent on funding from the graduate school than are students in science and engineering fields. Doctorates in the social sciences and humanities also take longer to complete than in other fields, he said.

The protesters at last week’s rallies voiced the concerns that the generation of professors and administrators now trying to shorten the time to a Ph.D. did not themselves practice what they preach. Federal data, in fact, show that the median time to a humanities doctorate since starting graduate school was nine years in 2012, nearly two years less than 25 years earlier. The median time for earning a social-sciences doctorate in 2012 was 7.7 years, a year less than 25 years prior.

For now, the students have the attention of Brown’s leaders. A meeting of graduate students and administrators, which Ms. Paxson and Mr. Weber are expected to attend, has been scheduled for Tuesday.

SUGS students gather at Faunce to give real answers to the question, “What’s Taking You So Long?!”

On April 24th Grad Students assembled on the steps of the Faunce House/S. Roberts Campus Center to discuss break down Dean Peter Weber’s letter to graduate students regarding sixth year funding and distribute hadnbills to the Brown community explaining what’s at stake with the controversy over sixth year funding.

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SUGS handbill 

 

SUGS also unveiled our latest campaign titled “What’s Taking You So Long” where students had the opportunity to answer those lovely Dissertation Completion Proposal questions with a bit more honesty than the first time around. Even students who couldn’t make it out posted to the tumblr: http://standupforgradstudents.tumblr.com/

nicole at assemblysugs4