GESO calls for grad school changes

About 30 members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization held an open forum Thursday night to discuss possible changes to the Graduate School’s policies toward international students.

The meeting came in the wake of allegations of discrimination brought forth by Xuemei Han GRD ’09, a third-year Chinese graduate student. Although Han’s case was eventually resolved by a Yale ad hoc committee, many students at the forum last night said they still think some of Yale’s policies generally put international students at a disadvantage and that change is needed to ensure equity in a number of areas, including the process of arbitration in matters relating to departmental affiliations and academic standing. Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said he is expecting a report soon that will make substantial recommendations on many issues of interest to international students.

GESO member Evan Cobb GRD ’08 said any disparity in treatment would be a “real problem.”

“The Graduate School is half international now, and I think that’s a good thing,” Cobb said. “We benefit from having the smartest people in the world here. But there has to be a commensurate commitment to making sure that they are on an even footing. It troubles me that there we have a problem.”

In August, Han was asked to leave the Graduate School’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and transfer to the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies after being told by her adviser that her scholarship did not fall under the purview of the EEB department. Han alleged that she was pushed out of the department because of problems with her English and because her former adviser at the Graduate School disliked her.

According to a report prepared by the GESO International Students’ Committee, in the past, designations of students as being in poor academic standing “have been vague and arbitrary and have disproportionately singled out international students.” The document called for the articulation of a clear definition of “good academic standing” and fair enforcement of that standard. The report also charged that questions of international students’ registration status — which affects their ability to retain valid visas — are often affected by “subjective issues of interpersonal communications and … bias.” Such decisions should be made by disinterested third parties in the future, the report said.

“We want impersonal third parties to arbitrate questions of academic standing, not faculty members with particular opinions or interests in the case,” Xiaoye Li GRD ’07 said. “We think that’s unfair to students.”

Cong Huang GRD ’09, the president of the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale, said a change in students’ options for appealing such decisions is important because currently the decisions are often made by professors who have had negative personal experiences with the students.

“There needs to be a more impartial process,” he said. “It’s not fair for the people who punish [the students] to be reviewing these cases again. We need a third party to make those decisions.”

Butler, who was invited to attend the forum last night but was out of town, said student input on the concerns of international students is important to the Graduate School, as evidenced by the inclusion of two graduate students on a committee chaired by professor Donald Engelman that is investigating matters regarding departmental funding, advising policies and discrimination.

“I was asked by the Graduate Student Assembly to name two elected members,” Butler said from New York in a phone interview last night. “That seems like the most democratic way to have student representation on the committee.”

But GESO chairwoman Melissa Mason GRD ’08 said the committee should include students who signed the grievance last fall calling for the University to address the charges of discrimination against Han. None of the students who signed that petition is currently on the committee, she said.

Among the other items on GESO’s list of proposals for international graduate students are University-provided health care for all dependants of graduate students and a readjustment of the pay scale for international students, who, GESO alleges, often receive less than their U.S. counterparts.

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