Grad School braces for cuts

In response to Wednesday’s announcement that, to save money, Yale will reduce the number of new doctoral students admitted to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, department chairs across the University said Thursday that Yale’s intellectual community and scholarly research may suffer.

University President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey said in an interview Wednesday that the total reduction in enrollment for the incoming class will be between 10 and 15 percent, though the number of students each department admits for the 2010-’11 academic year will vary depending on how many students each department has enrolled recently.

Administrators informed department chairs in September that they would need to reduce enrollment, though a specific figure was not determined until December. In a series of meetings over the past month, department chairs calculated the maximum number of students they will be able accept for the next school year. But because departments make admissions offers from December until the end of February, the ultimate size of the incoming Graduate School class is not yet known, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said.

Levin said the reduction in the incoming class enrollment will cause the Graduate School to lose only 2 to 3 percent of its overall current size — very little, he said, compared to a 25 percent reduction in the school’s size in the early 1990s.

“It didn’t create great problems then,” Levin said. “I don’t think the educational experience has been compromised for the students in any graduate or professional school.”

Master’s degree students will not be affected because they, unlike doctoral candidates, pay tuition. With each doctoral student that comes to Yale, the University must spend $65,000 to $70,000 per year on stipends and fellowships to support the student’s research, Levin said.

Administrators determined each department’s quota based on its enrollment history, Butler said. Doctoral programs that enrolled a larger-than-usual class last year will almost certainly accept fewer students this year, while programs that enrolled fewer students than usual last year may see a smaller reduction or even accept the same number as before, department chairs said. Butler added that each program will lose one or two incoming doctoral students on average.

“We tailor the reduction to the history of the program,” he said.

But in interviews Wednesday and Thursday some department heads and graduate students questioned the decision to shrink the Graduate School, arguing that the reduction will take away from intellectual life and research efforts. Each department’s intellectual community benefits from a variety of viewpoints, which can only exist with a substantial number of graduate students, Italian Department chair Millicent Marcus said.

“This is a loss for us,” she said. “It’s good to have a critical mass of students in our classes so that discussion can be more wide-ranging.”

While Dudley Andrew, chair of the Comparative Literature Department and co-chair of the Film Studies Program, said he thinks graduate classes are better with more students in them, the number of Ph.D. students in academia far exceeds the number of academic jobs available for them once they earn their degrees; it may be better not to flood the market with graduates who cannot find work, he said.

Compared to the woes of other universities, such as the University of Iowa, which is considering eliminating its cinema and comparative literature program altogether, Andrew’s departments are lucky, he said. He said that because the comparative literature department enrolled an unusually large class this year, it will see reductions, while admission to the Film Studies Program will stay flat.

But heads of science departments have urged Salovey and Butler not to cut graduate students, two department chairs said. Not only should Yale educate as many future scientists and engineers as possible, they said, but science departments need graduate students to complete federally funded research projects.

“Reducing the number of graduate students in the sciences is unfortunate and short-sighted,” Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department Chair Richard Prum said, adding that E&EB has seen a surge in grants from the federal stimulus package, which could pay for graduate student research. “Even though the income of our grants has gone up, the number of graduate students we’re able to accept has gone down.”

Many science professors are searching for students to conduct research projects endowed by outside grantors, added Cynthia Chang GRD ’11, an E&EB doctoral candidate. The enrollment cuts would be “a huge detriment to our department and to any department,” she said.

Professors in the Computer Science Department are conducting federally funded research projects — research that must be conducted with the help of graduate students, Computer Science chair Avi Silberschatz said. If these projects are not delivered, he said, it may be difficult to win future grants.

“Forget about the fact that we need to generate more scientists and engineers for the good of this country,” he added.

Butler and Levin said the number of new admits in some science departments might stay constant to address these issues.

Meanwhile, graduate students praised the decision to raise graduate student stipends by 2 percent, another provision in the budget memo Levin and Salovey released Wednesday.

“I think that cutting down on admissions as opposed to cutting down on stipends is probably the right way to go,” said Mark Klee GRD ’11, an economics student.

Administrators cautioned that the move to downsize doctoral programs is not unprecedented: Columbia and Emory universities have also reduced the numbers of their incoming graduate students to save money, Butler said. And even with these cuts, the Graduate School will still be larger than it was a decade ago, Levin and Salovey said in the memo.

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