After protesting on the steps of Warner House last week, the Graduate Employee and Students Organization is now seeking a definitive response from two deans in the graduate school.
GESO, the unrecognized graduate student union — submitted a letter to Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley and Dean of Strategic Initiatives for Yale College, the Graduate School and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Pamela Schirmeister on Monday, criticizing the funding and teaching policies that affect graduate students in their final years of study. The letter contains 16 graduate student testimonies that express continued frustration with a general lack of funding, a problem they claim will be exacerbated by Yale’s plans to support sixth-year humanities and social science students and to restructure teaching fellow stipends.
“Yale’s policies on funding and teaching have changed recently in ways that are affecting the lives of our members,” GESO Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said.
The testimonies addressed three major issues: incompatibility between teaching stipends and non-Yale funding sources, imminent pay cuts for seventh-year students and reduced funding for sixth-year students in science departments.
GESO Organizer Ed King ’15, a graduate student in the English Department whose testimony was included with the letter, said he was excluded from Yale’s sixth-year funding guarantee on the grounds that the Mellon Fellowship he received would compensate for a Yale stipend.
“I want Yale to honor the initial agreement,” King said.
Meanwhile, Michelle Morgan GRD ’15 said the reduction in teaching stipends for seventh-year students will make it difficult to pay child support fees and other monthly expenses while also finishing her dissertation.
“I decided to file a grievance to participate in this because I am both a student and a mom,” Morgan said.
In the past, graduate students were able to obtain additional years of funding through sources like the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Scholar Program and the Social Science Research Council, the letter said. Now, GESO claims that Yale counts these funds as a replacement for, not a supplement to, teaching stipends.
James Super GRD ’18 said it is often difficult to secure outside sources of funding — which he must do as long as the University continues to neglect sixth-year funds for graduate students outside the humanities and social sciences. Compounding the problem, he added, is that fields like his, geology and geophysics, are often underfunded due to a broad preference for “hard science” disciplines.
The letter goes on to note that faculty research grants from within the University often do not, in themselves, provide sufficient funding.
“There are a lot of people who do get external funding, but it’s not something you can rely on,” Super said. “It would be nice if there was a way that science could be included in this extension of sixth year funding.”
GESO’s letter also requests that the administration pay all teachers on an equal scale based on hours worked and calls for greater student input in the allocation of University Dissertation Fellowship funds. The organization originally sent the letter to Provost Benjamin Polak on Thursday, but has not received a formal response from him, Cooley or Schirmeister.
In an email to the News, however, Schirmeister justified Yale’s reasons for implementing the funding changes.
“We understand the new non-stipend teaching rates may cause financial difficulty for some seventh-year students,” Schirmeister said.
Schirmeister cited the fact that Yale has never provided financial aid packages for seventh-year students, and said the University cannot afford to do so without dramatic reductions in the number of enrolled students. She then recommended that students increase their teaching workloads in order or visit the financial aid office to manage their resources and seek loans.
She did, however, maintain that outside scholarships do not prevent students from receiving sixth-year funding from Yale and that students in science departments are “routinely funded for a sixth year already,” though she did not specify any sources.
In 2003, graduate students voted down a proposal to officially recognize GESO as their union.