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  April 23, 2001

Vice Provost's Column: Graduate Students Deserve Our Support
By Ian Hart

Graduate students are an essential component of a research university and deserve our appreciation and support.

Shortly after the announcement that Debra Stewart was to be the next president of the Council of Graduate Schools in July last year, she made a speech in which she described graduate deans as the "moral authority of the university." To some extent, that has been my experience since I was asked to assume this interim position last August.

It is clear that the Graduate School represents much more to many of the graduate faculty than simply a clearinghouse for processing admissions and recording student progress. One member of the faculty recently told me that she and her colleagues feel a sense of ownership in the Graduate School, and other faculty have stated that they depend upon the Graduate School to maintain the high academic standards and intellectual integrity of the institution.

Faculty Volunteers
In the same speech, Stewart stressed the importance of willing faculty volunteers to accomplish the work of deans and their graduate schools. In that respect, I have been particularly fortunate. During the past eight months, I have been more than ably assisted by the Graduate Faculty Council and particularly by the GFC Executive Committee. The members of these committees have a genuine desire to maintain standards and to further the objectives of graduate education at the University. This is particularly true of the GFC Executive Committee, whose members volunteer a considerable amount of their time to achieving that end.

The Graduate School has an obligation to ensure that our students receive the most satisfying and intellectually stimulating experience possible while they are here. Most people appreciate the role played by the Graduate School in monitoring both admissions and the academic progress of graduate students, but many are not aware of the work done in several other spheres. For example, the school advises as many as 200-300 graduate students each week. Furthermore, the Graduate School currently administers approximately $1.4 million of the predoctoral fellowship funding for the University.

Supporting Students
For several years, thanks to the efforts of Associate Vice Provost James Henkel, the Graduate School has been prominent in promoting multiculturalism at the graduate level and we administer up to $250,000 in fellowship support each year as part of the Multicultural Scholars Program. Matching funds are also available to departments, both to support outstanding current graduate students and to attract new outstanding scholars to their doctoral programs.

In talking to graduate students, I have a sense that they feel their contribution to university life is under-appreciated. Yet graduate students are an extremely important component of life at this Carnegie Doctoral/Research University-Extensive (formerly known as Research I) institution.

Large numbers of graduate students have teaching assistant appointments and play an essential role in undergraduate instruction. But even more important, without talented, well educated graduate students, the scholarly effort at the University would lose the essential continuous rejuvenation that comes from their questioning and challenging minds. Graduate students are one of the means by which faculty are stimulated to rethink established beliefs and assumptions in all spheres of scholarly activity - the humanities, social sciences, and arts, as well as both the basic and applied sciences.

Chancellor Petersen has emphasized his intention to promote and strengthen selected areas of research and graduate education at UConn. I join him in his dedication to research excellence and the continuous improvement of graduate education and training, for the two are very closely interlinked.

Six months ago the Graduate School moved to new modernized quarters on the second floor of the Nathan Whetten Graduate Center and adopted a very successful 'one-stop shopping' approach to answering inquiries. I hope that this will be just one step in a growing service orientation at the Graduate School, and that in the future we will provide a great deal more by way of services.

Initiatives that are currently under discussion in the Graduate School are the provision of more information - perhaps electronically - about the availability of additional external grants for graduate study; the establishment of a fund to which graduate students could apply competitively for support to spend time studying abroad; and the development of a formal grant writing course, since for many graduate students, grant applications will be an important component of their future careers.

There is also a need to restructure and, if possible, increase the amount of money available for the graduate student summer fellowship program. In addition, it is time to review the amount of money available to students for travel, both for research purposes and to attend professional meetings.

Different Needs
The Graduate School has a responsibility to foster a community in which graduate students can flourish and an environment that is conducive to their well being. This has been a central theme of the Task Force on Best Practices in Graduate Education reported elsewhere in this issue of the Advance. The needs of graduate students are quite different from those of undergraduates. The majority of graduate students are mature adults, many are married or have established relationships, and some have children. Many come to the University from a broad range of cultural backgrounds.

The role of the Graduate School should be to function as an advocate for this sector of the University. In recognition of graduate students' needs, one of the Graduate School's current initiatives is to promote the construction of a graduate student center or lounge as part of the Student Union renovations. The Graduate School has also ensured that the voice of the Graduate Student Senate has been heard, as plans have gone ahead to complete the new graduate accommodations as part of the Hilltop apartment community.

Addressing Issues
Recently, the Graduate School has played a more active role in bringing some of the officers of the Graduate Student Senate together with the GFC Executive Committee to discuss current problems faced by graduate students. This increased interaction between the two groups has led to a deeper understanding of many of the problems of graduate students and, in the case of housing, resulted in help and cooperation from both the Department of Residential Life and Dining Services. In order to keep the GFC better informed on a range of issues affecting graduate education, we have held a series of meetings where administrators have talked on matters of interest to graduate faculty and students.

Part of our approach to improving conditions for graduate students must involve a careful examination of the financial challenges facing those who study for graduate degrees. Many of our students come to the University on a half assistantship and clearly need more financial support. A task force is now in place to examine the fees paid by graduate students and to consider other financial issues and how they can best be addressed.

Finally, in all our work at the Graduate School, we must constantly bear in mind the need to prepare graduates for their future working lives. Many forego several years of earnings to undertake graduate study. It would be irresponsible of this University to produce graduate students who do not have the possibility or potential for further employment. It is the responsibility of the Graduate School to take into consideration the anticipated future job market, both in the goals we set for the number of students we admit, and in the academic, social and cultural experiences we provide during the time they are here.

Ian Hart is interim vice provost of research and graduate education and dean of the Graduate School.

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