As the semester-long review of all Yale doctoral programs comes to a close in December, some graduate students have expressed concern about the extent of students’ involvement in the process.
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Jon Butler and many departmental directors of graduate study said student input was at the core of the evaluation, but GESO members have claimed that their opinions have not been incorporated enough in the review. The review focused specifically on years two through four of doctorate programs, spanning the time between a student’s coursework and dissertation, a period which Butler said can often prove challenging for students if they do not receive proper guidance.
Butler said graduate student opinion during the evaluation was acquired in a “double-pronged” approach. Over 300 students filled out an online survey that asked questions about the strength of the doctorate program in their respective fields, and dozens more engaged in discussions with their DGSs and other faculty members, he said.
Butler said the survey was designed to provide an anonymous forum for students to openly express their opinions about coursework, mentoring and the quality of preparation for their dissertations at the departmental level.
“[Student input] is important because the students are the ones who are trying to progress in their degrees,” he said. “Programs don’t operate in the abstract. Programs operate with real students.”
But GESO spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’07, a doctoral candidate in German, said he is disappointed in the way the review has progressed so far. He said the numerous forums and town hall meetings that were proposed when the project was announced never took place, and he believes Butler did not take the time to talk to students in the German department in person about their issues and concerns.
But not all students agreed with the assertion that they were not adequately involved in the process. Graduate Student Assembly Chair Ian Simon GRD ’08 said he thinks Cobb’s disappointment stems from a belief that the administration should be more involved in shaping each departmental review, but that the administration’s hands-off method was intentional.
“They purposefully wanted each department to conduct their own review autonomously, because they thought each department would know what was best for itself,” he said.
Simon said the online survey — which he said was intended to supplement, not replace, group discussion — is a good example of the administration’s attempt to elicit honest, thoughtful responses from students and to effectively relay the information to the department heads.
“Many students do not feel comfortable voicing criticism with faculty,” he said. “There’s great concern with being singled out.”
But Cobb said the four-question online survey for students was not thorough enough to appropriately assess student needs. In an attempt to collect more comprehensive opinions, he said, GESO has conducted its own survey this semester, which has already been completed by several hundred students in the social sciences, humanities and foreign language programs. He said fewer sciences students have completed the survey because GESO does not have as strong organizations in those departments. GESO will compile the results into its platform — which will be ratified at its membership meeting next week — and then present them to Butler and other members of the administration, Cobb said.
Simon said GSA is helping to foster student discussion by setting up a number of meetings with students and faculty to address the most important graduate school issues, such as faculty mentoring.
Timothy Snyder, the History Department DGS, said consultations with graduate students have been his major resource in composing the report on the history doctoral program. He said he invited them to speak with him individually, met with them in groups by class year and appointed students to be liasons to convey comments from students who wished to remain anonymous. He said the students “took advantage of these channels for communication.”
“It’s not that the graduate students were engaged to some extent or another in the process — in my department, discussion with graduate students has itself essentially been the process,” he said in an e-mail. “My hope, which I think will be justified, is that [the] two-four process has generated discussion with graduate students that will create opportunities for some sensible reforms.”
English DGS Linda Peterson said she met with the English Department Graduate Student Advisory Committee and students in advanced classes to receive input on courses. She said the GSAC wrote a report about the stages of the doctoral program that has since been thoroughly discussed in the department. All of the contributions, including those of the faculty, were very productive in the departmental evaluation, Peterson said.
Cobb said conversations between students and faculty are essential because since most people come to graduate school to become academics, it is important for them to be very involved in the decisions made by the University.
“We as graduate students are in training to become professors in the future,” he said. “These changes will affect our abilities to become professors. [Students need to know] to what extent their disciplines will be autonomous [and] to what extent as faculty they will have a share in governance of the university.”
Butler said the deadline for submission of the reports is informal and that they will most likely come in from departments throughout the month of December.