Opinion: The state of graduate studies at university is dismal | Opinion

David F. Boyd Hall is home to LSU Graduate School on November 21, 2016, at 114 West David Boyd Hall.

In Pres. In Tate’s first report to the university on August 6, 2021, he named graduate studies as one of the core priorities of his tenure, saying that “you can’t recruit doctoral students if they don’t have a floor in their allowances which in fact allows them to live. It’s just untenable and I’ll say it in this context – it’s unethical to recruit doctoral students if you don’t provide these. [benefits]. “

The focus is not surprising given that Tate was previously the dean of a graduate school at the prestigious Washington University in St. Louis.

I spoke with Dean James Spencer, Principal of LSU Graduate School, to get a better idea of ​​the current state of graduate studies here at the university. The outlook appears to be a lot more complicated than many have made it appear.

According to Spencer, the graduate school has historically focused on “pushing the paper” rather than “benchmarking the quality of education on campus.” Under Spencer’s leadership, the school embarked on a strategic planning process to examine its role in students’ academic journey and analyze how best to allocate resources, especially graduate assistantships and the valuable stipends that go with them. Campus.

Graduating students across the university have urged the administration to increase the minimum allowances allowed. In a 2020 interview with Le Reveille, one graduate student pointed out, “What we get paid is barely above the poverty line.” Spencer says he’s “very sympathetic” to graduate students in need; however, he notes that “it is not ‘we need higher allowances’, but ‘where do we need higher allowances'”.

Spencer says the university is “slightly over-investing the norm” with its total spending of $ 50 million on assistantships and tuition waivers. Ultimately, individual colleges have the final say on how much they provide to their graduate students, with some STEM fields allocating significantly more than the required minimum of $ 10,800 per semester.

“We need to establish benchmarks. We don’t need to increase allocations to Yale level. It would kill us if we did that. We also don’t need to keep them at the state level of Montana. We need to decipher which pool we’re swimming in and compare ourselves to the allowance that works for it. “

Scholarships are only part of the problem facing our university graduates. The United Campus Workers of Louisiana – the union representing graduate students – published a petition in 2020 urging the university administration to provide more comprehensive and affordable health insurance, which the union says can run as high as 33 % of the monthly salary of a graduate assistant.

This health insurance cost is inevitable for graduate students who are required to maintain it as a condition of being allowed to stay in the country. This is an additional cost on top of the fees which are already among the “highest in the country”, according to the 2019 Reveille report.

Adam Dohrenwend, a geology doctoral student, shared with me some of the day-to-day concerns of graduate assistants.

While he concedes some improvements have been made recently, the university must “seriously consider what it means for exceptionally talented graduate students to live paycheck to paycheck and meal to meal.”

What impact does this financial stress have on research results? What impact does it have on the quality of teaching?

As pres. Tate said the university’s current pact with graduates is “unethical” and far from what should be allowed at a flagship university. I applaud him for bringing attention to the issues facing graduate students and for committing to change.

As the doctoral school adopts a new strategic vision, all the pieces of success are in place. I am convinced that the change will come.

Charlie Stephens is a 20-year-old in political communication from Baton Rouge.

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