Graduate students are mobilizing to protest a change in Columbian School of Arts and Sciences policy that would raise the tuition of doctoral students in the dissertation stage $645 per semester.
Until recently, doctoral candidates who had completed 72 credit hours of course work but still were working on their dissertations were required to pay a continuous enrollment fee of $35 to the University each semester.
But as of September 1999, Columbian School doctoral and masters’ degree candidates who have completed their exams and are in the dissertation, or Unit II, stage will be required to register for continuing research at a cost of one credit hour – $680 – each semester until graduation.
“We see it as a big problem,” said Rachel Riedner, a human sciences doctoral candidate. “Those of us in grad programs are supporting ourselves, and this change could prohibit people from finishing.”
“I know a lot of people are upset, but if we are going to carry them on the books, they ought to be paying some sort of fee,” said Christopher Sterling, associate dean for graduate studies in the Columbian School. “And it is hard to believe that somebody would complete 72 hours and then not be able to finish because they couldn’t pay for another credit hour.”
Carol Sigelman, associate vice president for research and graduate studies, said the fee was implemented to compensate the University for graduate students’ use of facilities such as the library and computer labs, as well as access to GW professors.
“None of those resources come free,” Sigelman said.
Sterling added the policy change may be partially intended to encourage students to finish their degrees in the shortest possible period of time.
“We do have trouble with people who can’t bring their work to a close,” he said. “As they get farther from their exams, they risk the possibility that the field may have moved on without them.
“For the most part, this will affect students who have been around too long,” Sterling said. “We’re not trying to goad people into finishing, but come on, there are people out there who think there is nothing else in life besides getting a Ph.D.”
GW’s other schools began to charge Unit II doctoral students one credit hour per semester in 1992. But until now, CSAS had not implemented the fee for its doctoral candidates, Sterling said.
The consensus in 1992 was that the policy disproportionately affected doctoral students in the humanities, who usually spend longer working on their dissertations than their counterparts in engineering and the sciences, whose work might be out of date after several years, he said.
“The Columbian School of Arts and Sciences had been deviating from this policy until it was brought to the attention of the Graduate Enrollment Management Committee,” Sigelman said. “There was a degree of unfairness in forcing a student in the school of engineering or education to pay the fee while somebody in CSAS did not.”
A letter to the Faculty Senate, written by an informal coalition of students, said, “In certain disciplines, especially in the humanities and social sciences, students will complete the course work of the doctoral degrees in three years or more, and only then begin the process of selecting, researching and writing on their dissertation topic.
“The National Research Council has determined that in history, for example, the average enrolled time to degree is 8.8 years,” the letter said.
The letter also asserts that the administration uses the money as a recruiting tool rather than to support more senior doctoral candidates who have completed their course work.
Riedner and other students said they will press the issue for months, beginning at a Faculty Senate meeting Sept. 11, when they will present a petition with more than 75 signatures in an effort to force the Student Association to take action.
With the enlisted support of the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, Riedner said she hopes to change the administration’s mind before the 1999-2000 tuition rates are finalized next March.
“Often it is forgotten that grads are 60 percent of the GW population,” said Emily Cummins, a political science graduate student. “This is a little-publicized policy change that impacts approximately 2,000 GW students who are seeking doctorates in a variety of specialties.”
“I don’t have to tell you how expensive this place is. But this was not a Columbian School decision. This was dictated out of Rice Hall,” Sterling said.
“Based on the unequal application of existing policies, the committee recommended this change,” Sigelman said.
This article appeared in the August 31, 1998 issue of the Hatchet.