Doctoral students confront increased work hours, no proportional rise in pay

Doctoral students confront increased work hours, no proportional rise in pay

By:
04/14/2016

The Doctoral Students Coalition (DSC) has been circulating a petition since March 29 asking that Dean Norberto Grzywacz, Dean of the the Georgetown University Graduate School, postpone and reconsider changes to the school’s policy for doctoral students’ stipends and employment. The DSC claims that these changes were made without their approval or foreknowledge, and will effectively require doctoral students to work more hours for a stipend that is not commensurately larger.

Under the current policy regarding doctoral students’ stipends, doctoral students are expected to work fifteen hours a week on average for the University to receive a stipend. Doctoral students can take on an additional part-time job for the University for five hours a week. The changes to this system, put forward by Dean Grzywacz, require doctoral students to work up to twenty hours a week, and remove the option of taking on another part-time job with the University.

The administration presented these changes as an effort to protect doctoral students from mistreatment. “In a private meeting, the changes were defended as an attempt to make sure nobody was being exploited through overwork. However, we do not believe the changes succeed in this goal” said Benjamin Feldman, doctoral student and member of the DSC. He added that the administration further justified the changes as part of a broader effort to make the University’s funding competitive with other, similar institutions.

Many members of the DSC are concerned about the effects this change will have. “Essentially, grad students are either getting an increase in hours without a proportional pay increase, or (if losing a 5 hour a week job), receiving a pay cut without a reduction in hours worked,” Deidre Nelms, doctoral student and member of the DSC, wrote in an email to the Voice. “This is unacceptable, and in any workplace this policy would be described as exploitative.

The changes will be especially difficult for international doctoral students, who due to the stipulations of their visas are allowed to work a maximum of twenty hours a week. In the current system, international doctoral students frequently take on one of the available part time jobs on campus or work off campus to build job experience. As the DSC writes in its petition, though, international doctoral students’ twenty potential hours of employment will now be spent at their mandatory University jobs, rather than at an optional part-time job to generate income or off-campus at a job relevant to their theses.

The DSC has criticized Dean Grzywacz and the administration for failing to adequately publicize the changes. Michael Barnes, an international doctoral student, informed the DSC of the changes in late February after they were mentioned briefly in a meeting of only international doctoral students. At the time, no other doctoral students had been notified and many faculty members were unaware, according to Hailey Huget, member of the DSC and doctoral student.

“Further, even if the changes can be rationalized in a way that is entirely coherent, cohesive, and even convincing, they have not been, at least not publicly. And I think that’s what really bothers people,” said Feldman.

The DSC is further concerned that they were not involved in the decision-making process which arrived at these changes. “[The changes] seem to have been made unilaterally, without input from graduate students or faculty,” Nelms wrote in an email to the Voice. We are also concerned with what this shows about the decision making process as it stands.”

“It shouldn’t be possible for our contracts to be quietly changed without our knowledge or consultation over the summer, with the expectation that we’ll be compelled to sign them again in the fall,” Nelms added.

 

The petition directly calls for the changes to be postponed until the 2016-2017 academic year, to give doctoral students time to adjust their schedules and living arrangements in light of the decrease in their income. A delay will also give doctoral students time to voice their concerns and adjust the policy changes, according to the petition. The petition additionally calls for the Dean Grzywacz to directly notify doctoral students of the planned changes, which has not yet formally been done. At press time, Dean Grzywacz could not be reached for comment.

As of April 12, the petition had received 187 signatures, of which 70% were doctoral students and 30% were a mixture of faculty, undergraduate students and members of the Georgetown community, according to Nelms. The DSC hopes to present the petition to Dean Grzywacz by the end the 2016 Spring semester.

An error with regards to the headline was changed. Where it once said, “no rise in pay,” it now says “no proportional rise in pay.”

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Jake Maher

Jake Maher Jake Maher is the editor-in-chief at The Georgetown Voice.


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