February 22, 2008

current issue
archive / search
Chronicle RSS Feed

    University's new initiatives bolster graduate student support

    By Laurie Davis
    News Office

    In response to the recommendations of the Provost's Working Group on Graduate Student Life in the Humanities, Social Sciences and the Divinity School, as well as discussions with graduate students and faculty members both before and after the group's assessment, Thomas Rosenbaum, Provost, Cathy Cohen, Deputy Provost for Graduate Education, and Kimberly Goff-Crews, Vice President and Dean of Students in the University, are initiating new actions to improve the graduate student experience at Chicago.

    Following the February 2007 announcement of the University's Graduate Aid Initiative — in which $50 million was committed to graduate student support over six years — the Provost convened the Working Group last May to further explore issues of graduate life relevant to both current and future graduate students. The new actions represent a commitment by the Central Administration, divisions and departments of $4.9 million in new funds over five years in support of current graduate students.

    They include expanding the Graduate Aid Initiative to also support matriculating doctoral students in the Divinity School beginning in fall 2008; providing the Divinity School and Social Sciences and Humanities divisions with the option to reduce full-package, five-year offers they could make to new students for the 2008-09 academic year in exchange for additional money for current doctoral students (slots-for-funding) not covered under the Graduate Aid Initiative; increasing the number of Provost Summer Fellowships; increasing the number of dissertation-year fellowships; appointing three separate committees to evaluate the compensation structure for graduate student teaching, the advanced-residency system and the services that support international graduate students; reviewing the health insurance programs and health care services for graduate students; and strengthening the mechanisms for consultation with graduate students, including regular surveys.

    "The University has long been known as an outstanding institution for graduate education. Fundamental to our success in the field of graduate education has been an outstanding faculty, an exceptionally gifted group of graduate students and an overall commitment to follow innovative intellectual pursuits independent of discipline or scholarly tradition," wrote Rosenbaum, Cohen and Goff-Crews in their action steps document posted Thursday, Feb. 21 on the Office of Provost website. "We are committed to building on that tradition through new enterprises such as the Graduate Aid Initiative.

    "Every department that has decided to participate in the 'slots for funding' plan has committed to bringing all of its current students at least up to a minimum stipend level that was determined in conjunction with the division," they wrote.

    The participating departments in the Humanities that will bring their third- and fourth-year students and first-year advanced-residency students up to a minimum support level of $15,000 are: Art History, Cinema & Media Studies, Classics, Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages & Civilizations, English Literature, History of Culture, Jewish Studies, Linguistics, Music, New Testament, Romance Languages & Literatures, and Slavic Languages & Literatures. The total new financial commitment for current graduate students in the Humanities Division is $705,000 over the next three years.

    In the Social Sciences, the departments of Political Science, the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, History and Sociology will bring the stipends of their third- and fourth-year students up to a minimum of $10,500, with a total commitment of $421,000 in new resources.

    The University will devote a total of $950,000 to increase these stipends, which, according to Rosenbaum, Cohen and Goff-Crews, will provide needed support for students as they work toward fulfilling their program requirements. "It is our hope that this supplementary assistance, along with the other actions, also will help to lessen the time to degree for some of our current students," they noted.

    During the summer of 2007, Rosenbaum inaugurated the Provost Summer Fellowships, which now will be increased over the next two years. These fellowships are designed to supply current students with additional financial support so they can concentrate on preparing for exams, completing a master's thesis or conducting research for publication.

    In the summer of 2008, the fellowships will increase four-fold, from 25 to 100. Fifty fellowships will be awarded the following year, up from the 15 expected to be awarded in 2009. (As the number of students in scholastic residence not covered by the Graduate Aid Initiative decreases, the number of fellowships awarded each year also will decrease.) The Office of the Provost is devoting $300,000 in new resources to this effort, while the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students in the University will commit an additional $30,000, bringing its total support of these fellowships to $150,000. Students not covered by the Graduate Aid Initiative will be eligible for these summer awards, which will be made through a competitive process.

    In the upcoming year, the University will add 15 new dissertation-year fellowships to help address the needs of advanced graduate students in the Social Sciences and Humanities divisions, who no longer receive the five-year financial package provided by the University, yet need funding to complete the research and writing of their dissertations.

    "Dissertation-year fellowships have proven to be very successful in the past, allowing students close to completing their dissertation the concentrated time to finish their writing and defense," wrote Rosenbaum, Cohen and Goff-Crews. "Although we have greatly improved the funding packages we can offer students in the Social Sciences and the Humanities, we understand that time to degree often extends past the five years of guaranteed funding that is part of the Graduate Aid Initiative."

    The 15 additional dissertation-year fellowships are being funded by an endowment grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Office of the Provost, with guaranteed funding of more than $2 million over the next five years.

    In addition to monetary support, the University will form three separate review committees. One committee of faculty, students and staff will convene to review multiple issues surrounding graduate teaching, including compensation levels and the system for evaluating teaching remuneration, and pedagogical training for graduate students to be prepared for their teaching assignments.

    "We recognize that teaching is a primary instrument through which we can facilitate the development of the essential skills needed for success in a career, especially the academy, as well as productive engagement in the larger society," the provosts and dean noted in their action steps. "We therefore have a responsibility to explore how we can improve the pedagogical training and actual classroom experiences of our graduate-student teachers." The committee's work on the pedagogical training aspects of their charge, is expected to be completed by winter 2009.

    Two other committees will convene to study the services that support international graduate students and recommend improvements, and to review the advanced-residency system and the yearly AR tuition increases.

    The Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students in the University will lead an effort to identify new ways to provide education loans to international graduate students as well as employment opportunities through the University. The dean's office also will form a committee to evaluate how to enhance current services for international graduate students. Rosenbaum, Cohen and Goff-Crews also are taking steps in response to the Working Group's recommendation to evaluate the health insurance programs and health care services for graduate students. Current graduate students were given basic insurance coverage through their fifth year when the Initiative was announced, yet students have expressed concerns about the program's effectiveness.

    The Working Group also plans to strengthen the mechanisms for consultation with graduate students and efforts to monitor students as they progress through the various stages of their graduate work.

    To read a more detailed description of the action steps the University will take to improve graduate student life and graduate education at the University, as well as a complete report of the Working Group, visit the Provost Office's website.