Some possible grad fee compromises

As a doctoral student and a graduate senator in the Student Association, I have been impressed by the response to recent publicity of the new fees being charged to doctoral and master’s students who are completing their dissertations and theses (“Ph.D. students fight CSAS fee increase,” Aug. 31, p. 1, and “Grad fee solution,” Sept. 10, p. 4).

Administrators, most of whom also actively serve as faculty, are compelled to strike a balance between facilitating graduate research and safeguarding the University’s bottom line.

On one side is the desire to foster an academic environment conducive to superior scholarship. This requires sufficient intellectual and financial enticements to attract and retain good graduate students.

On the other side is the necessity to prod “lagging” students toward ultimate completion of their degrees. Time to degree is a legitimate factor in the reputation score of GW as a national university.

Of course, the quality of research we produce serves to rank us even more. Professors, graduate students who assist them, and alumni who use their GW degrees for careers in academia, public service and the private sector, all reflect our educational standards, earn respect, and attract grants and other financial support. This is why graduate students are so central to the continued survival of a university.

I extend sincere thanks to the faculty and administrators who continue to provide encouragement to those of us on the long road to publication and degree. Also due appreciation are the students who have volunteered so much time to promote graduate concerns in the Student Association. If it were not for graduate students like Rachel Riedner (human sciences), Randy Papadopoulos (history) and J.P. Blackford (engineering management), grads still would be that “silent majority” on campus.

Following are several potential compromises that the Student Association is requesting the Joint Committee of Faculty and Students and the Faculty Senate to consider and forward to Rice Hall for action:

One, all currently enrolled students should be protected under the previous policy. As of now, as Jennifer Wulffson (art history) noted in her letter to the editor, master’s students are not grandfathered, and only doctoral students who enter Unit II by 1999 are grandfathered.

Two, departments or colleges could be permitted to waive the fee for individual students based on academic merit. This preserves the integrity Dean Christopher Sterling emphasizes in his concern that students “who can’t bring their work to a close” may be left behind in their fields. It also grants authority to the only ones qualified to make such judgments – the candidates’ advisers.

For the same reason, this compromise does not penalize students who have chosen to work in disciplines which, according to nationwide averages, require more time to degree.

A third recommendation is that several semesters of continued enrollment be restored. For master’s students, one semester should be permitted. For doctoral students, who were previously permitted six semesters, four semesters could be allowed.

As Vice President Carol Sigelman notes, usage of facilities also should be recognized. Many students, particularly doctoral candidates, spend several months or years researching and writing outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. In such cases, students who are completing their work without Gelman Library and the Smith Center, for example, may deserve an adjusted fee schedule.

Thanks again to the professors, administrators and newspaper staff who have worked so well with us. The openness and careful consideration with which you address our concerns speak well for our academic community.

-The writer is a Student Association graduate senator representing the Columbian School of Arts & Sciences.

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