Letter to the Editor: Responding to graduate student support

Opinion by Debra Satz
May 13, 2020, 11:47 p.m.

As dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S), I am writing to correct several inaccuracies in the Daily article “‘A total lack of leadership’: Grad students say Stanford is providing inadequate financial support amid pandemic” on May 9. I am aware that The Daily has updated the article after receiving this letter with my corrections.

In this period of uncertainty, I understand that our graduate students are concerned about their funding and their future, and that this uncertainty is causing them additional stress and anxiety. Core to the school’s priorities is our research and teaching mission, and our graduate students are central to that. The school has taken a number of steps to mitigate the disruption of their research and job searches while also working within the constraints of the fiscal crisis brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

It is important to understand there are widely variable funding sources for graduate students: For example, our science departments, which constitute about 50% of all doctoral students in H&S, are supported largely on grants from the federal government and other external sources. In the humanities, arts and social sciences, graduate students are largely dependent upon departmental or school funding. Each department needs flexibility to determine what strategy works best for supporting their students.

The Daily’s article did not mention the additional year of funding the school has made possible for departments to provide to students who are entering their sixth year of doctoral study in the 2020-21 school year, although this funding comes at a future cost of smaller graduate cohorts in the next few years. In addition, our departments are reviewing their local resources to assist students with summer funding where they are able to do so, and, likewise, the school is reviewing resources that we may be able to use.

Moreover, the school is working on a number of other initiatives that are in the preliminary stages. For example, we will be creating new competitive postdoctoral fellowships and lectureships, the details of which will be announced once we have a clearer sense of next year’s budget. We expect to be able to offer approximately 30 such positions, hopefully more.

Relatedly, The Daily’s article misrepresented my guidance to advanced graduate students. I have encouraged students beyond their 6th year to complete their degrees in order to position themselves to be strong candidates for these competitive post-doctoral fellowships, lectureships, and teaching opportunities, which require a Ph.D. This was quite explicit in my letter to graduate students, of which The Daily has a copy. However, The Daily article left the impression that I am trying to send these students away, indifferent to their fate, which is absolutely not true.

Our graduate students are our future, and we care deeply about their success. Although our resources are not infinite, supporting our students is one of our top priorities.

Debra Satz
Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences

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