Grad students call on deans for increased financial, legal support across schools

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In a mass email campaign over the last few weeks, students have urged deans to extend support for graduate students. The campaign, which targeted deans of five of Stanford’s seven schools, was organized by the Stanford Solidarity Network (SSN), a student group that advocates for graduate students. 

As of Monday, SSN has confirmation of 252 emails sent as part of the campaign by bcc’ing the Solidarity Network email address, according to Alexa Russo, second-year anthropology Ph.D. student and SSN member.

SSN’s work on graduate student support during COVID-19 started in the form of a petition. The petition received over 700 signatures, Russo said.

From the petition, which the Graduate Student Council passed a resolution to support, SSN then extracted five points that it thought deans were in a position to address, Russo said, and compiled them into a letter. As per a Daily op-ed published by Crookston and fellow SSN member Tania Flores, they received no response from the deans on the letter and hence decided to launch the email campaign. As of Sunday, they have not received any official response from the deans, said Emilia Groupp, another SSN member. 

Their demands include an optional one-year program extension for all graduate students, summer funding for all at the minimum quarterly rate, expanded emergency funding, additional funding for graduate students who are also parents and individualized legal counsel for international students. The letter points to another op-ed published in The Daily by the group talking about comparable measures taken by peer institutions. For example, Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is allowing all graduate students to apply for an additional year of “lost-time funding,” and Brown is allowing all doctoral students to apply for an additional semester of stipend.

In addition, the letter acknowledges work recently done by the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education to extend Emergency Grant-In-Aid funds. This extension makes up to $5,000 available to each student through an application, and it covers “unexpected travel expenses, expenses related to academic activities or work performed from home, costs incurred as a result of carrying out essential research on campus, or accommodation for unexpected changes in family finances,” according to the official announcement. 

SSN’s letter calls for the program to be expanded to cover living expenses, which it currently does not. In an interview, Russo said that many graduate students rely on outside funding sources for the summer that have dried up this year. 

“For us, it’s a question of paying rent or not,” Russo said.

Asked about the form in which SSN expected deans to intervene given potential budget cuts at a University-wide level, Crookston said the deans may not themselves be able to suddenly provide a large sum of money in the middle of budget cuts.

“But they have a ton of power to be our advocates,” Crookston said, “And to go to the next level of the power hierarchy and say, ‘This is not enough. You can do more. This is how we’re going to reallocate things.’” 

The letter thanked department chairs for their advocacy and support. The appreciation of department efforts and desire for University-wide action also reflects in a recent survey that SSN and the Stanford Student Parent Alliance conducted of students with dependents. Asked “How well do you think that your department, professors or advisors understand your present situation?” the mean response was 3.6/5. Asked “How well do you think that Stanford’s administration understands your situation and acts to help?” students’ mean response was 2.53/5. 

Flores, a first-year Iberian and Latin American cultures Ph.D. student, applauded the measures taken by the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages. Grace Zhou, a seventh-year anthropology Ph.D. student and another SSN member, said her department is also sympathetic and trying to work with students but that their hands have been tied with respect to funding.

“The Department of Anthropology has been spending down its reserves in order to support students from the first to the sixth year over the summer of 2020 and the next academic year,” wrote Thomas Hansen, chair of the anthropology department. He wrote that any additional initiatives would have to rely on the School of Humanities and Sciences or the University for funding.

The dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, Debra Satz, wrote in a Daily Letter to the Editor earlier this month that the school is making an additional year of funding possible for sixth-year Ph.D. students. Departments are reviewing their resources to assist with summer funding where possible, and are working on creating competitive post-doctoral programs as well. 

Saying that “science departments … are supported largely on grants,” while students in others rely on funds from departments or schools, Satz wrote that “each department needs flexibility to determine what strategy works best for supporting their students.”

SSN’s letter responded to Satz, saying, “flexibility ultimately means that different departments will provide different levels of support to their graduate students.”

The Daily reached out to the five deans for comment and received two responses: Dan Schwartz, dean of the Graduate School of Education (GSE), and a spokesperson writing on behalf of Lloyd Minor, dean of the School of Medicine. 

Schwartz wrote about the importance of creating opportunity and educating students to the GSE. 

“I appreciate the demands of the petition, but it proposed just one set of solutions amidst many possibilities,” he said. “We are a small school, so we can handle student needs on a case-by-case basis. While there is some appeal to a blanket decree, different students need different things, so we are individualizing our support with the goal of supporting every student to achieve all they can.”

Julie Greicius, a spokesperson for the School of Medicine, responded to each of the five requests put forth in SSN’s letter. She said that the school already guarantees funding through graduation to all biosciences Ph.D. students. Summer stipends are also provided to all biosciences Ph.D. students. 

In response to the request for an expansion of emergency funding, she said the School of Medicine has launched the Biosciences Hardship Program, which covers many needs such as those related to dependent care, medical emergencies, ongoing healthcare and rent through a one-time grant of up to 5,000 dollars. 

“Legal counsel for international students is not provided through the School of Medicine and would most effectively be provided at the university, not school or department level,” she wrote in response to SSN’s last request.

The other three deans, Debra Satz, Stephen Graham and Jennifer Widom, did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.

Contact Smiti Mittal at smiti06 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Smiti Mittal, originally from New Delhi, India, contributes to News, Satire, and Podcasts. Contact her at smiti06 'at' stanford.edu.