Updated: Jan. 12

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will soon provide Ph.D candidates in the humanities and social sciences with a sixth year of funding, a welcome change for students pressed to complete their research within six years and find teaching positions. But debate continues as to whether the new policy goes far enough.

The funding, which will be provided through teaching positions or an equivalent stipend, will begin in the 2015–16 academic year. Previously, funding packages in the humanities and social sciences only covered five years, though many graduate programs typically take up to six years to complete, with some students continuing for even longer.

“We have learned from our students in the humanities and social sciences in particular that the increasingly competitive job market favors students who have had more teaching experience than we have been able to provide,” Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley wrote in an email to Ph.D candidates on Dec. 15. “The sixth year of guaranteed funding will enable eligible students to develop teaching portfolios of more depth and to plan ahead for their sixth year with more certainty.”

Students in the sciences and engineering will continue to be funded according to their programmatic financial aid packages for the number of years it takes to complete their degrees, the email said.

Chair of the Graduate Student Assembly Joori Park GRD ’17 said the policy change comes after nearly five years of negotiations between the GSA and the University. Park said the policy change will remove significant stress from sixth-year students who rely on teaching opportunities to financially support themselves.

“The number of teaching spots fluctuates each year based on enrollment, and as a result [graduate] students … may or may not get funding,” Park said. “There’s a lot of stress and anxiety that comes with that for students finishing their dissertations that need to stay in New Haven.”

Yale is the only Ivy League school to currently offer such a package for sixth-year students, Park added.

Brian Dunican GRD ’15, the 2013-—14 GSA chair who was involved in previous conversations with the University about the policy change, said not having to hunt for sixth-year funding will help students who may have required seven years to complete their Ph.Ds to do so in six. Dunican said the issue of sixth-year funding has been raised for years in department meetings and school-wide surveys, adding that the policy change would make the Graduate School more attractive for future applicants.

The announcement comes less than two months after over 1,000 supporters of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization protested for GESO to be recognized as a student union. Since the protest, which was the second in six months, the University has shown no sign of negotiating with GESO.

“We welcome the University’s actions to recognize the value of our teaching work, but only by negotiating a contract can we fully address the issue of job security for graduate employees in our upper years and especially in the sciences,” GESO Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 wrote in an email to the News.

Cooley said this improvement in the funding package comes as the result of work begun several months ago by former Yale College Dean Mary Miller and former Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard, and has nothing to do with GESO.

However, several graduate students interviewed differed on whether the policy goes far enough.

“Yale is making a push to shorten Ph.Ds, and while graduating in five years was often not realistic, this policy change may incentivize students to graduate in six years rather than seven,” said William Gray GRD ’18, GSA’s current Academics and Professional Development Committee chair. “For students that do take seven years I think we will go back to the old system of stress and uncertainty and hopefully we can work with the administration to alleviate this issue in the future.”

But economics graduate student Chiara Margaria GRD ’17 said she believes funding a sixth year is enough, explaining that in her field, taking longer to finish the degree program diminishes a student’s job prospects.

Currently, the median numbers of years required for students to complete their Ph.Ds varies widely, such as 5.7 for economics and 7.3 for history.

Cooley said she does not expect funding to be expanded to support graduate students in a seventh year of study. With the resources available to them, she added, graduate students should be aiming to finish in six years at most. Past experiences at Yale and peer institutions indicate that more funding can encourage students to take longer with their degrees, she explained.

Further, Cooley said she hopes faculty will advise students to undertake dissertations that can be completed within the six-year time frame, as hiring departments often “look askance” at candidates who take a long time to complete their studies.

Dean of Strategic Initiatives, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School, Yale College Pamela Schirmeister, who chaired the working group that put forth the new policy, said seventh year students will still be able to teach, though positions will not be guaranteed. This does not represent a change in policy, she added.

Three history graduate students said they frequently have to seek teaching opportunities in other departments, while two economics graduate students reported that it is not difficult to find teaching positions in the department. Margaria said that uncertainty about sixth-year funding has never been felt in her department, where it is easy to find teaching or research assistant positions.

Still, many administrators and graduate students extolled the virtues of the policy shift, explaining that the new funding plan may make Yale a more attractive destination for prospective graduate students and a less stressful work environment for current ones. 

“The anxiety about financial support for the sixth year had weighed heavily on doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences for years,” Pollard said.  “This new plan should allow them to focus on their work and help them finish their dissertations rather than worrying about financial support.”

Professor of English and American Studies Wai Chee Dimock said the existing graduate financial package was already noteworthy compared to Yale’s peer institutions. However, the creation of sixth-year funding is a show of support for the University’s graduate education, she added.

The policy change would be especially welcomed by philosophy students, said philosophy professor Stephen Darwall, as many struggle to complete their dissertations within six years. Darwall, who previously taught at the University of Michigan, said guaranteed sixth-year funding had existed there for the past decade.

As of fall 2014, 2,643 students are enrolled in the Graduate School.

  • ldffly

    There’s a lot to think about here. I have to wonder if an extra year of teaching experience at Yale will make all that much difference in the academic job market. Or does Yale need them for an extra year to handle work in the college? Work which probably should be handled by junior members, but which can be handled more cheaply by graduate students.

    • charliewalls

      I had the same question. Several articles have indicated surprising amounts of graduate assistant teaching now. In Directed Studies of the 1960s, that wasn’t the case. And it left an experience truly at world class levels.

    • ShadrachSmith

      I see it as budget creep. The program manager sold the program to the budget committee because he could,

  • reillylikesit

    Many of our peer institutions have guaranteed funding for six years, this is just bringing us further in line. The extra year isn’t there for teaching, its to have enable deeper, more prolific work during the PhDs years at yale. As there are more and more backlog of underemployed PhDs, it’s becoming the norm to expect higher and higher caliber of experiences of PhDs heading to tenure track positions or other high-level jobs. Funding students through their six year will enable students that need the extra time to have a fantastic thesis along with other outside experiences in order to have a competative CV. Big props to the GSA and both deans on this. I know it was many years in the making. Say what you will, but these kinds of changes take time and continued effort, but show that change is possible. Anyone that wants to improve the grad experience at Yale should look to and work with the GSA rather than other groups that may make a lot of noise, but not show a lot of results.

    • newhavencitizen

      Please elaborate on the following:

      What schools have sixth year funding? I know firsthand that Harvard, Princeton, and Stanfotd don’t. And they seem the likeliest candidates.

      Why did the administration become willing to move on this issue this particular year after many years of discussion?

      Don’t you think a far more parsimonious explanation for this novel phenomenon is not that Yale’s grad student government, which strongly resembles those at comparable institutions, achieved a unique result, but that GESO, which has nothing like a peer in fierceness and durability at any institution, is the obvious distinguishing variable? And that crediting the GSA is how the university saves face when it concedes to GESO after the latter has a year of extraordinary growth? And that this face saving is, in fact, the function for which the GSA exists?

      • Arthur

        How is your explanation “parsimonious”?

        • newhavencitizen

          In that an institutionally unique result (6 years of funding) is given an institutionally unique explanation (GESO). Yale did something no other university has done. Presumably, therefore, there is something going on here that is not going on anywhere else. It’s because he doesn’t want to admit this that reillylikesit, above, lies about how common six year packages are.

          • Arthur

            I still don’t understand what that has to do with being parsimonious, but thanks for taking the time to try to explain.

          • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

            Likely intent was shorthand for “Occam’s Razor,” the idea that the least complicated, most direct answer is often correct.

            Even more “parsimonious” would be to take the report at face value:
            “We have learned from our [GSAS] students… that the increasingly competitive job market favors students who have had more teaching experience” and “the policy change would make the Graduate School more attractive for future applicants.”
            –So, reputational, competitive and employment factors

            [GSA] said the policy change comes after nearly five years of negotiations between [GSA and Yale]” and “the issue.. has been raised… for years.” [Yale] said the change had “nothing to do with GESO.”
            –“Durable” GSA involvement asserted; GESO = zero.

            “More [than six years of] funding can encourage students to take longer with their degrees” and “taking longer to finish…diminishes a student’s job prospects” and “hiring departments often ‘look askance’ at candidates who take a long time to [diss].”
            –reputational, employment factors + individual merit/competition

            So: market forces, competition at the university and student levels, and GSA involvement. A much more “parsimonious” story than having to take into account the “efforts” of an officially ignored non-union club.

      • reillylikesit

        Penn has similar 6th year funding as of last year. They call them “scholarships” but the truth is there are more than enough to around. Northwestern is also in the same boat. We’re hardly unique. Brown and Dartmouth both have stronger (and more effective) union movements, that work with many student groups and have reached broad consensus. They also make a lot of sense there as their Administrations have very poor relations with student government. However in those cases on unions, they are very far from 6th year (and in some cases stable 5th year) funding.

        Im unsure how GESO’s 34/35 funded and timed protests, without any interaction with the administration can be labeled as the cause for this. Talking with student governments, if the administration showed ANY signs of being concerned about GESO, GSA and GPSS would immediately jump on it as leverage. Since GESO refuses to talk to the admins, I can’t imagine why they would be concerned. I understand why GESO may be annoyed by development, their argument is that the system is broken, hence the need to reinvent it. This example clearly shows the opposite. If GESO is more concerned about issues that their existence as an organization, I can’t comprehend why Mr. Greenburg’s statement can’t show more excitement for the improvement and congratulate the GSA that worked to achieve it. And to be clear, once the system is broken, give me a 2×4 and a sharpie, I’ll be out there protesting immediately.

        Sorry if my initial comment was misconstrued, my real point is this: I commend GESO and it’s members for their commitment and interest in improving the lives of students at Yale; apathy among students is one of the worst traits. However, I have to criticize any attempt to reduce the hard work put into this by the GSA. Not just the organization as a whole, but the individuals, the real people who have sat through countless hours of meetings with Deans Pollard and Cooley, drafted reports on the issue, contracted deep research and environmental scans of our peers, had fortitude to keep up this fight over multiple years and multiple administrators. Anyone who merely discussed this issue with friends, professors, or administration can be given some credit in the change, but please, lets give credit where it’s do: to those individuals that actually produced compelling and realistic arguments to the administration. Those that saw their goals through to real change that will impact the lives of students.

        • newhavencitizen

          I’m really not trying to start a flame war here, but this makes me insane.

          1. The university administration will not talk to GESO. This is the whole substance of the dispute between the union and the administration. The union is asking for a conversation with the university — this is its central demand.

          2. I’m not trying to discredit the work of the GSA, actually, but if what the GSA does is negotiate with the administration, then why would we not want more negotiating power? You describe student government as wanting leverage. So why not support the damn union if leverage is what you want?

          3. This is not actually a hard question to settle. Yale, let’s assume, pays what it has to in order to get the services it requires at the quality it wants. This is like every institution. So what would drive up the price that the university is willing to pay for graduate students? There are two possibilities — the two ways that wages ever go up. One way is a spike in demand / fall in supply: fewer people applying to grad school or saying yes to Yale, or the university growing the size of the programs dramatically. Clearly, neither of those is happening. The other way is collective action. What’s obviously false about your account is that it refuses to explain the decision at all — the university just up and decided to be nice one day! Where on earth do you think the leverage came from? (Especially since we know it didn’t come from peer institutions, see below.) The institution is too well-trained and smart to *say* “We’re doing this because of GESO.” It nonetheless remains the only viable explanation, if you’re actually interested in thinking through and explaining events in the life of the institution. (I’m guessing you aren’t a social scientist.)

          As for other things you’ve said. To my knowledge, it is simply false that other institutions already offer sixth-year funding. Please substantiate this.

          – From UPenn’s history department website: “Nearly all History Ph.D. students are recipients of four or five year fellowships awarded by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences upon admission.”

          – From UPenn’s English department website: “Penn offers 5 year funding packages to everyone accepted into our PhD Program.”

          – From UPenn’s Sociology department website: “Financial support comes in the form of Benjamin Franklin Fellowships, which cover a monthly stipend, tuition for 3-4 courses per semester, and health insurance for four years. During the first and fourth years, the Fellowships do not require service in the form of a teaching (TA) or research assistantship (RA); during the second and third years, students will serve as either a TA or RA, the fifth year students may be asked to serve as a TA in return for their support. Fifth year students often teach their own courses or apply for fellowships to support writing their dissertation.”

          – From UPenn’s French department website: “Currently, the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences cannot guarantee full funding for graduate students beyond their fifth year in the program. Students in their fifth year who anticipate needing a sixth year of funding may wish to seek out external fellowship opportunities to supplement the Benjamin Franklin Fellowship once the latter expires.”

          – From Northwestern’s history department: “The department guarantees support for the first five years of study, including four years of summer support.”

          Etc., etc., etc. And Dartmouth doesn’t even *have* graduate programs in most of the humanities and social sciences. Nor should we be surprised by this; obviously the less wealthy universities will do this after the wealthier ones.

          As for your other claim: there are no unions at Brown or Dartmouth. Brown has a very small proto-union organization, as far as I can tell, but it’s nothing on the order of GESO. Indeed, there is nothing on the order of GESO at any other institution in America. And there is no sixth-year funding at any other institution in America. If you were a sociologist or economist making the claim that the union had nothing to do with this, you’d be laughed out of the room.

          It’s such a common phenomenon for employers to give raises in response to union drives, and claim that it’s not because of the union drive, that it’s actually a violation of federal law. (It’s a mainly unenforceable ban, but it should give you some idea of how frequent this is.)

  • bettercorporateperson

    GO GESO!!!! Thank you to all my colleagues for your hard work. So many people worked so hard to make this happen. But the fight continues…. gains like this are exactly why we need a union. No matter what the administration throws at us, there is no substitute for a real seat at the table to directly negotiate over the terms of our work. #OrganizingWorks