LTE: NUGW Response to Woodruff GLAC Meeting Remarks

Northwestern University Graduate Workers

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At last week’s Graduate Leadership and Advocacy Council meeting, Dean (Teresa) Woodruff responded to the department letters and impact statements calling for guaranteed sixth-year funding collected and submitted by Northwestern University Graduate Workers (NUGW). She said she read all of the letters and comments, but only reiterated the administration’s position that there is no guarantee of sixth-year funding, and that Interdisciplinary Graduate Assistantships would remain unavailable to sixth-year doctoral students. She did not address the detrimental impact caused by uncertainty in funding.

It is well known that the average time to graduation is around six years, though in many large departments — including anthropology, English, history, linguistics and philosophy — it may take a typical graduate student seven or eight years to graduate. This is not due to lack of urgency on our part, as these times are normal for such departments across the country, but due to the nature of the programs themselves, which often require extensive fieldwork, archival research or language acquisition.

In her comments, Dean Woodruff acknowledged that there is variation in how long it takes for someone to complete a Ph.D., and assured those in attendance that the TGS budget is flexible enough to account for these differences. Many of us have operated on this implied promise of funding opportunities since accepting our offers to attend Northwestern. But we now know that this unwritten funding assurance is not enough. Some of us already accepted an IGA for our sixth-year when they were suddenly rescinded. We were told to focus on our research and not worry about sixth-year funding, only to find that a “budget crisis” now means we must scramble to secure our livelihood.

We are, however, happy to hear the administration concede that budgetary flexibility currently exists. During the winter quarter, NUGW held a public forum on university finances in February where we made the same point — that lack of money is not the problem. We even posted an analysis of the past 18 years of Northwestern’s financial reports, just so everyone can see the data for themselves.

For those of us who are apparently not the assumed “typical” graduate student — if we are international students, if we are parents, if we lack class privilege, if we have chronic healthcare needs or if we are simply pursuing important research that necessitates remaining in our program beyond the fifth year — this situation is untenable.

We will no longer accept vague assurances while the administration pursues an agenda meant to expand its already $11 billion endowment at the expense of graduate workers and the educational mission of our university. We demand a guarantee of sixth-year funding and the reinstatement of IGAs for advanced students.

Northwestern University Graduate Workers will be marching on May 23 at noon from the main entrance of the University Library. We stand in solidarity with all of our students, faculty and support and facilities staff who have been harmed by the university’s austerity measures, and we call on all members of the Northwestern community to join us as we March for a Guarantee.

— Northwestern University Graduate Workers (NUGW)

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