In a report released Wednesday night, an internal committee found that the Graduate School does not systematically discriminate against students of Chinese origin, but noted that departments could improve communication with all students about finances and evaluations.
The committee, which was chaired by professor Donald Engelman, was created last fall after allegations of discrimination were made by members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization in a series of protests in October. Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said he accepts the committee’s recommendations and will implement them as soon as possible. GESO members said while they are pleased the Graduate School is focused on international students’ concerns, the report does not meet all of the group’s demands.
“The most significant finding is that the University does not discriminate on the basis of national origin,” Butler said. “There is a body of recommendations that make it clear that departments in the Graduate School simply need to be clear about their regulations and communicating with students.”
Funding issues were a central piece of the dispute arising in the fall over the case of Xuemei Han FES ’09, who was told she might lose her funding if she switched from a program in ecology and evolutionary biology to a doctoral program administered by the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Han was unable to find an advisor in her original program, and in science departments that pay stipends out of faculty grants, fluctuations in grant funds or advising can threaten students’ financial support.
The Engelman committee reaffirmed that departments must accept responsibility for finding each student an advisor and meeting their guarantee to provide a stipend for every student in the program, regardless of funding gaps. They also recommended the creation of a new ad hoc committee to evaluate and clarify funding policies to minimize student confusion.
The report also recommended that written evaluations be provided after students complete a lab rotation — because oral recommendations can lead to misunderstandings between the students, faculty members and departments — and that every graduate student receive an annual written evaluation. Committee member Sarbani Basu, an astronomy professor, said this recommendation will benefit all doctoral candidates, not just international students.
“It’s a bit more crucial for international students because there may be miscommunication at times,” she said.
Because language barriers between professors and students may impede advising and evaluation as well as future career opportunities, the committee recommended that the University require courses in spoken English for students who need it. It also proposed the creation of an English language training course to be conducted in China for incoming students, which Butler said may not be feasible for summer 2006 but which he will work to implement for 2007.
Basu said all of the committee members except for Engelman originally came from non-English speaking communities, so they were sympathetic to concerns about language barriers and visas.
“We know exactly how the students feel and how unnerving it is that you might lose your visa,” she said.
Butler said he expects to implement all of the committee’s recommendations quickly, and he plans to meet with all science departments by mid-June to discuss the recommendations. Though the recommendations will not be enforced as rules, they will be put into place through the Graduate School’s “powers of persuasion,” Butler said, and he expects departments to accept the proposals because the benefits are so clear.
GESO spokesperson Evan Cobb GRD ’07 said he is glad the University is taking international student concerns seriously. Organizer Xiaoye Li GRD ’07 said he thinks the report addressed most of the concerns expressed in the grievance that was filed by Han in October, but the recommendation for further study of funding security is not a complete solution.
Cobb said he is disappointed that the committee did not include anyone who signed the “class action grievance” organized by GESO and signed by more than 300 students in the fall.
“A majority of the Chinese community at Yale signed that grievance, and it’s very curious that none of those students were involved in the committee in any way,” he said.
The committee included four professors, all representing science departments, and two graduate students. The students were elected representatives in the Graduate Student Assembly, selected by the GSA to serve on the committee.