Bienen graduate students petition for equal pay


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Students from Bienen and other schools with hands-on majors are figuring out what online learning is going to look like.

Emily Chin, Social Media Editor

A petition asking the University to increase stipends for Bienen graduate students has garnered nearly 350 signatures since it was posted in July.

In May, Northwestern announced stipends for doctoral and MFA students in The Graduate School will increase to $29,000 from $22,992 per year. However, Bienen graduate students will not benefit from the stipend increase because they are not funded within The Graduate School.

Bienen pays its graduate students about $6,750, although pay can increase to up to $10,800 if students take on additional teaching or musical accompaniment jobs within the University, Bienen dean Toni-Marie Montgomery said. However, all students who accept a stipend, which is open to all DMA students, are required to do a work study.

The petition’s authors argue Bienen graduate students should be funded the same as their peers in The Graduate School.

Hana Beloglavec, a Doctor of Musical Arts student, said she has mixed feelings about the petition because Ph.D. students often teach classes, whereas Bienen students have fewer opportunities for teaching. However, she sees her colleagues’ point, she said.

“As a graduate student, it is weird to me that (Northwestern) would expect us to do some of the same things and end up much lower down than the other students,” she said.

The Graduate School offers funding for research through internal and external fellowships and internal grants. Bienen students, however, don’t get funding specifically for research, even though research is required for a DMA degree.

“If a student is writing a dissertation and they’re going to a site to do research, then we don’t fund that,” Montgomery said.

The only research-related funding Bienen offers is money to present a research paper at a conference. Beyond that, Bienen offers funding only to students who have been invited to participate in a competition and pass the first round, Montgomery said.

Pianist and recording artist Jacob Greenberg (Bienen ‘99, ’03), said he received the maximum amount of funding the school offered, but it still was not enough. He said he was still paying off his debt four years after completing the program.

“The petition really hit home,” Greenberg said. “I was a (graduate) student for five years at Northwestern … it doesn’t complete the picture if funding is not improved.”

The petition was addressed to Bienen administrators, Graduate School Dean Dwight McBride and University President Morton Schapiro. Central Administration, which includes Schapiro and Provost Daniel Linzer, is responsible for providing funding, Montgomery said.

Schapiro declined to comment. Linzer did not respond to a request for comment.

“I understand the concern that students have, however, this is not a new issue,” Montgomery said.

Out of more than 600 accredited music schools in the nation, Bienen students were among the best funded in 2007, alongside the Yale School of Music and the Juilliard School, Montgomery added.

“We need to focus on the positive of our being exceptional,” she said. “I understand students’ response when they compare a $6,750 stipend to a $29,000 stipend … but we are in the top echelon of providing financial aid.”

Bienen sees itself as separate from The Graduate School; most music schools in the country operate with this same separation, Montgomery said.

“If it were in the graduate school it would put pressure on Bienen to run differently than it is now,” Beloglavec said. “Considering that it is separate, it makes sense that the stipend is different because you can’t expect two different parts of the school to do the same thing.”

Bienen currently provides 15 slots to DMA students. If DMA students were part of The Graduate School, the administration would have to further limit the number of students in the program, Montgomery said.

However, Greenberg said he thinks Bienen students should be more integrated with the rest of campus. When he was a student, he said, he had little interaction with other students on campus.

“If funding were available to all, that would go a long way to improve the integration in the class, and there can be greater interdisciplinary collaboration,” he said.

He also noted that the new central location of the Music and Communication Building creates potential for more integration, as long as it is accompanied by funding for students.

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