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Graduate students petition for University action on summer funding

Students speak out on funding inequities across departments

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Over 500 graduate students have signed a petition calling on the University “to mitigate the potentially disastrous consequences of the pandemic” on students’ academic work and basic quality of life. Students are asking for measures including guaranteeing summer funding, amending student housing policies and rent and providing greater support for mental health. 

In addition to requesting University financial support, students are requesting to extend housing priority by one year and to allow students who have moved in response to COVID-19 to maintain their priority. Additionally, the petition requests that rent rates remain the same as during the 2019-20 year. Mental health-related requests include removing limits on the number of CAPS visits and compensating students for out-of-network or out-of-state care. 

Other asks include installing an official channel to report power abuse issues stemming from COVID-19-related policies, supporting graduate student families through an emergency enrollment period for the dependent health care plan, providing emergency COVID-19 funding grants and offering increased financial and legal assistance for graduate students.

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in an email to The Daily on Tuesday morning that Stanford is “now working with school deans’ offices and departments to understand graduate students’ financial needs during the summer, given that COVID-19 may have disrupted funding sources for many students.”

“We recognize many students are facing financial hardship and the university stands ready to help,” Miranda wrote. 

Miranda also encouraged graduate students to contact the Financial Aid Office, the appropriate office within their school, or the Graduate Life Office for more information about receiving emergency family grants and grant-in-aid funds.

The petition follows Provost Persis Drell’s announcement last Thursday asking individual departments and programs to work with graduate students “to explore alternate work opportunities and sources of support” after the University’s decision to cancel residential summer programs, which many graduate students depend on for income. 

Many graduate students and postdocs have expressed concerns about outsourcing decision-making regarding summer funding to departments, especially those belonging to humanities departments that have more limited budgets. 

Communications graduate representative and third-year Ph.D. student Sanna Ali, who expressed her concerns with the administration’s lack of involvement in summer funding on Twitter, has been advocating for the expansion of summer funding since before COVID-19. 

“This has been an issue long before the pandemic, but during these times, things are of course more precarious and uncertain than ever,” Ali told The Daily in an email.

Ali wrote that her department chair, communications professor Jay Hamilton, “sees the issue but said after consideration, they are not expanding summer funding unless directed by the University due to budget constraints.”

“The department is doing the best that they can to address individual needs, the University needs to step in and guarantee summer funding for all graduate students,” she wrote.

Graduate students in different departments will face uneven impacts from the hit to their funding.  

“The danger of not having university-level guidelines on graduate student funding through this crisis is that funding disparities that are already apparent between different schools and programs can give way to dangerous levels of inequity,” Jason Beckman, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the East Asian languages and cultures department, wrote in an email to The Daily. “For some people things will be okay in the end; for others this situation will be disastrous.”

“Sanna and Andrew’s expenses will be similar to mine this summer, so it makes no sense that I will receive around $9000 and they will not,” third-year Ph.D. comparative literature student Chiara Giovanni told The Daily. “This is the impact of failing to provide a consistent response across the University and instead leaving it up to departments.” 

According to Beckman, students in his department are only guaranteed an $8,000 grant per summer for two summers, which is already less than the amount that they receive during the academic year. For the remaining three years, students have to rely on external summer research and language programs, most of which are no longer viable options.

Ali told The Daily that the communications department’s guaranteed $6,000 stipend is only offered one summer and is “53% of what is offered for a quarter in the academic year.” 

“The department guarantees each student one summer funded at $6,000 to work on their own projects without any obligation to the department, and has provided the opportunity to apply for additional funded summers which are almost always granted,” Hamilton told The Daily. “Students can earn a higher salary if they teach in the Stanford Summer School, work as research assistants for faculty members or pursue internships in the private sector.”

Sixth-year music Ph.D. student and co-director of affordability for the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Irán Román shared Beckman and Ali’s concerns. The music department does not guarantee students summer funding, he said. 

Both Beckman and Román, in addition to Ali, placed the onus on the University to guarantee graduate student funding, not the department. 

“It’s not as though our department has a magic pool of funding for emergencies like this, or the ability to somehow produce a new source of money to make up for funding that can’t be repurposed,” Beckman wrote.  

“It’s irresponsible that the University has allowed for departments to admit grad students without guaranteeing summer funding,” Román said. “Now the University has to own this situation and do the right thing: fund all doctoral students’ summers from now on.”

In response to Ali’s Twitter thread, comparative literature professor and Faculty Senate member David Palumbo-Liu called the situation “shocking” if true and advocated for a Faculty Senate investigation of graduate students’ funding.

“At this point, we have not discussed the issue, and thus it is important to use this time to get the data and information we need to have a reasonable discussion,” he wrote to The Daily. “I think that the most effective action would be to talk broadly with graduate students across the various departments to see what the most common and most urgent issues are.” 

Graduate students are already proposing actions they believe the University should take, as laid out in the petition.

“One way [Stanford] should lead is by extending timelines for completion and guaranteed funding, and mandating and providing summer funding for graduate students consistent with their pay during the rest of the school year University-wide,” wrote fifth-year communications Ph.D. student Andrew Fitzgerald.

“The University ought to guarantee every enrolled PhD student $9,000 (or however much the average PhD student receives in a typical quarter if they are not already receiving summer funding), stable housing (i.e. not moving people out of off-campus housing until the summer is over, at least) and enrollment options so that international students’ status in the country is secure,” Giovanni wrote. 

In the meantime, students are scrambling to figure out how they will fund themselves through the summer. 

Román, who lost his summer internship with a startup as a result of the pandemic and has no other source of funding this summer, told The Daily, “Right now, I don’t have a summer internship. My department does not offer me summer funding. The other alternative, the last resort, is [teaching] the summer workshops, and those workshops are going to be canceled now.” 

Students are also concerned as to whether their funding in the future will be impacted if the pandemic continues. 

“It’s becoming clear that it will take more time to complete our degrees, and during all that additional time (however much it is) we’ll need a consistent source of funding, housing, and health care,” Beckman wrote. 

April 7, 11:20 a.m.: This article has been updated to include the University’s response to the petition.

Contact Esha Dhawan at edhawan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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