We have consolidated all of our University news sources into one location called BingUNews. Inside stories published through 2016 will remain available here. Stories published in 2017 and later will be found at BingUNews. Enjoy!
Road Map Steering Committee reaffirms graduate stipend decision
December 16, 2015Tweet
The Road Map Steering Committee on Dec. 15 voted to move forward with a proposal that will fund incoming doctoral students at higher levels beginning in fall 2016. The proposal was widely vetted last year, is strategic and is designed to move ahead the top Road Map strategic priority (engage in path-breaking graduate education, research, scholarship and creative activities that shape the world).
At the steering committee meeting, Provost Donald Nieman said that stipends for PhD students receiving graduate assistantships have remained stagnant since they were last raised in 2007, due to the recession that hit the following year. He noted that SUNY lost about 30 percent of its state funding between 2008 and 2012, and, when NYSUNY 2020 was implemented, Binghamton University’s first priority was to invest in rebuilding faculty and staff – which it has done.
Now, Nieman said, the priority is to recruit the best PhD students possible.
“For a number of years, our stipend level has been a real concern for the campus,” he said. “We have fallen further and further behind.”
The campus began to address stipends a few years ago when Nieman instituted Provost’s Fellowships, where top PhD students get $4,000 in addition to the stipends offered by their programs. “That created differentials within departments,” Nieman said, “but it didn’t address the key issue, which is the base stipend level.”
As an example, Nieman said that the University offered 60 Provost’s Fellowships last year, but only 36 were accepted. “That speaks to the problem that our base stipends are too low. When we make offers to students, too often we lose the top ones,” Nieman said. “We are not casting aspersions on our current graduate students, who are very good and whose work we appreciate, but we are becoming clearly less and less competitive in a very competitive market.”
The Road Map proposal will fund incoming Graduate Assistants (GAs) at a level that puts departments in the 75th percentile among their peers, adjusted for the cost of living, Nieman said. “Increases in the humanities and social sciences will be about $2,000, and in the STEM fields between $5,000 and $6,000 because Binghamton is much further behind in those areas.”
The proposal was widely discussed by the Faculty Senate Budget Review Committee, which includes graduate student representation, and it emerged as its highest priority, as it did for the steering committee. “Budget decisions are hard decisions, but the proposal does address a fundamental issue,” Nieman said. “We’ve made the right decision because we’re creating an increase that is significant enough to make us competitive. If we phased the increase in and gave $1,000 to every student, it would lose the impact we need for recruiting and make us less competitive.
Nieman has also been working with campus departments to encourage them to use their resources to invest in current graduate students to mitigate the differential between new and current GAs. The provost’s office will partner and match up to $500 what individual departments will do. “One of the outcomes of this is that we will be in a position where continuing GAs in most departments will get $1,000, and sometimes more, which is what they would get if we took the entire pool of funds and spread it out among all current and new students.”
Prior to the vote, two graduate students spoke on behalf of alternate proposals.
Laura Johnson, representing the Graduate Student Employees Union, encouraged the steering committee to reconsider its decision. “For the past three months, we’ve worked tirelessly for equal pay for equal work,” she said. Calling the original proposal and the partnership between the individual departments and the provost humiliating for current students who aren’t considered worth the investment, she questioned how Nieman’s counter offer would work.
“This [proposal of money from the departments and the provost] allows the administration to wash its hands of us,” she said. “It’s not a counter offer to meet our goal of equal pay for equal work. There are no guarantees in place, no stipulations for how it would work and no timeline for figuring it out. It’s one more indication that the administration doesn’t take us seriously.
Johnson said she was tired of walking into meetings and already knowing the outcome and being treated like a petulant child. “This should never have been allowed to happen without compensation to current students,” she said. “We will keep fighting until a real, tangible offer is proposed and we will keep fighting and we will win.”
John Walters, a doctoral student in biological sciences, proposed alternatives. “It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis,” he said. “There has been little attention paid to the many ways this could be implemented. One is to split the money, on average $1,000 per student, though significantly higher for some departments.
“Another alternative is to implement using step increases of the stipends. Is there a severe difference of reaching the desired level by 2016 rather than 2019? A gradual change can have a large impact but at less cost. The current proposal will cause deep and irreparable harm and that outweighs any benefits of the proposal.”
Following the presentations by the graduate students, the Road Map Steering Committee voted 26 to 3 to move forward with the proposal to fund new graduate students at the higher levels beginning in fall 2016.
“This is the first time a decision has been challenged and the first time we’ve ever done this,” President Harvey Stenger said. “I appreciate the hard work the graduate students have done to take it to this level. These are tough decisions, but we went through a good process.”