While still not quite making Alex Rodriguez-type money, many Yale graduate students will receive a substantial pay increase next year.

The announcement of the almost 20 percent raise in stipend levels for humanities and social science doctoral students comes in the midst of an ongoing debate about a possible teaching assistant union, and both sides are spinning the issue a different way.

Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said the decision to raise standard nine-month stipend levels from $11,500 this year to $13,700 next year for doctoral students and scholars studying on University Dissertation Fellowships was motivated solely by a desire to keep Yale competitive in the race for top graduate students and had nothing to do with any union organizing activity.

Hockfield said other top universities have made major increases in support for graduate students recently.

“We feel the need to make a major adjustment this year in order to stay in the same rank,” Hockfield said. “The single motivating factor for this is seeing what our peer institutions have done over the past year or two.”

While Hockfield denied any connection between the announcement of the increase and activity by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, former GESO chair Rebecca Ruquist GRD ’02 said her group’s efforts have been a catalyst for positive changes like the raise.

“So many things that make [Yale graduate school] great have been fought for by the union,” Ruquist said.

Although Ruquist had mostly kind words for the increase, she did speak ironically of the adjusted stipend.

“It’s only $4,000 below the poverty line now,” she said.

She also said she did not believe the stipend increase would steal momentum from GESO. The organization is in the midst of a large-scale organizing campaign after a National Labor Relations Board decision last year reversed a precedent of ruling against prospective TA unions at private universities. That ruling led to the certification at New York University of the first TA union at a private university in the country.

“I don’t think that there’s anything that could get in the way of graduate students’ excitement right now, be it a carrot or a stick,” Ruquist said.

John Williams GRD ’06 professed a similar opinion of the situation after the stipend increase.

“It’s certainly possible that graduate students will feel less of a need to join GESO,” Williams said. “[But] many graduate students, in my opinion correctly, feel that GESO’s presence is what continues to push the University to these larger stipends.”

The increase does not apply directly to students in the sciences, who have their stipends set by individual departments. But Hockfield said science students likely can also expect healthy raises next year.

“Stipends for students in the biological and physical sciences will also increase substantially,” Hockfield said.

At this point, Yale covers health insurance and four years of tuition in all doctoral programs as well as guaranteeing five years of stipends for most programs.

Michelle Nickerson GRD ’02 said she welcomes the increase in stipends.

“I’ll take the raise anytime,” Nickerson said. “Thank you, Dean Hockfield.”