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.
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.
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.
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.
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.