After decades of conflict between the University and GESO — the unrecognized graduate student union — a new battle can be added to the list: Who gets credit for a sixth year of funding for graduate students.
The narratives are clear. In one, the Yale administration bowed to pressure from the GESO after two massive protests by the group on the steps of Woodbridge Hall last year. In the other, the story is less dramatic: After years of considering the issue and working with the Graduate Student Assembly, the administration decided to add the extra year of funding.
“This was a chronic problem that needed to be addressed,” former Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said, adding that GESO had “absolutely totally nothing to do with it.”
The funding, which was announced to Ph.D. candidates on Dec. 15 by Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley, guarantees graduate students in the humanities and social sciences one more year of funding, bringing the total to six.
Cooley’s announcement came less than two months after roughly 1,000 GESO supporters gathered on Beinecke Plaza, and just under eight months after hundreds of rain-soaked protesters delivered a petition bearing over 1,000 signatures to Woodbridge Hall.
“I think the thing that’s so exciting about six-year funding is that we view it as an official response to our actions, and we look forward to sitting down and negotiating with the administration,” said GESO Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18.
But at both protests, the rallying cry was not sixth-year funding. Instead, the protests were a continuation of GESO’s decades-long effort to be recognized by the University, and therefore gain a seat at the negotiating table. What is more, GESO leaders and Graduate School administrators have not met since the protests.
Brian Dunican GRD ’15, who served as chair of the Graduate Student Assembly during the 2013–14 year, said GESO’s efforts had no impact on the decision. The timeline for the change, he said, does not line up with Greenberg’s assertion — discussion, he noted, about a sixth year of funding officially began in December 2013, five months before the first GESO protest. At the time, Pollard put together an ad hoc committee to address the issue, according to Dunican.
Pollard echoed Dunican’s assessment, noting that there had been talk about extending funding even before he became dean in 2010. According to the former dean, who stepped down last July, he first addressed the issue of funding sixth-year studies along with the Teaching Fellows Program — an initiative to improve the teaching skills of graduate students under faculty guidance — in discussions with the GSA in February 2014.
Pollard emphasized that the process that led up to the decision to finance a sixth year of studies was not a negotiation, but instead an example of a close collaboration between the GSA and the administration to resolve a problem.
Dean of Strategic Initiatives, Yale College, the Graduate School and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Pamela Schirmeister also negated Greenberg’s assertion, adding that GESO did not influence the decision. Schirmeister said the GSA was instrumental in voicing students’ concerns.
Still, students interviewed were divided on which story — Greenberg’s or the administration’s — rang true.
“If there hadn’t been parades in the streets, this wouldn’t have gotten done,” said a graduate student who, fearing retribution, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Justin Mendoza GRD ’15 agreed, saying he did not see the funding as the product of the GSA’s efforts.
But Megan Eckerle GRD ’15, along with five other students, attributed the added funding to the GSA. Dunican, meanwhile, said that he sees the GSA as a more effective tool for creating change than GESO, as it can bring more specific issues to the attention of the administration.
Yale is the only Ivy League school to guarantee funding to sixth-year graduate students.