With Monday’s announcement that Yale will again increase graduate student stipends, the University made its most recent move aimed at remaining competitive with other elite institutions in attracting top academic talent.
The boost of the standard stipend to $15,000 in 2002-2003, an increase of $1,300 from this year, will also help raise the quality of life of graduate students. This year’s 7.5 to 10 percent raise comes on top of even larger upgrade of almost 20 percent just last year.
The administration is to be commended for augmenting its commitment to graduate student financial aid. With similar boosts in aid at Harvard and Princeton, doctoral students at top universities are facing less restrictive financial burdens.
But these improvements should not preclude additional efforts to enhance the University’s competitive standing. Even with Yale’s stipend increase, Princeton’s aid levels for doctoral candidates remain higher, with a $16,000 standard award this year. And Yale may fall even farther behind if Princeton administrators reveal an even more generous financial package for next year.
With challenging labor negotiations beginning soon, Yale will have to further demonstrate its commitment to graduate students if it wants to avert an extended confrontation with its recognized unions, locals 34 and 35, with which the graduate students seeking unionization have allied.
In response to the new stipends at Yale, GESO Chairman J.T. Way GRD ’05 was quick to tout the influence of union-organizing efforts among graduate students. On the other hand, the University has consistently denied that the Graduate Employees and Students Organization is a factor in graduate student aid improvement.
Of course, it is difficult to judge University administrators’ reasoning for making changes, but it is objectively true that conditions for graduate students are far better at Yale than they were 11 years ago, before GESO existed.
Whether the improvements are due to GESO advocacy or more robust economic times and the commitment to the Graduate School demonstrated by Yale President Richard Levin and Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield is another question. What seems to be obvious is that the move does make Yale more competitive in its quest for the best doctoral students.
But the mere fact that what should be a universally welcomed policy change is an occasion for disagreement is testament to the divisiveness that often characterizes the relationship between the administration and GESO.
Rather than fruitlessly debating the motives for the stipend increase, both sides should view this move as a mutually beneficial change and work toward substantive solutions to their longstanding differences in the months ahead.
CORRECTION: This editorial incorrectly stated that Princeton provides a standard stipend of $16,000. Princeton provides this stipend to first-year science and engineering students, and other stipend levels vary and are often lower.