Monday, June 1, 2015

New Funding Model Devalues Graduate Student Research

We are pleased that the recent initiative of the Dean's Office on graduate funding has helped to begin a discussion within the School on this issue. We also agree, as the "five-plus-two" model suggests, that seven years be seen as the duration it takes to complete critical, research-focused projects and prepare for the job market. We suggest, however, that the five-plus-two model is insufficiently thought through, and that many foreseeable negative consequences follow from its implementation. The Associate Dean Herbert has suggested that five-plus-two is cheaper, but that it would also provide students with some academic benefits. For reasons outlined in the attached document, we suggest that the rhetoric of academic benefit be dropped, and the five-plus-two model be regarded primarily for what it is: a model that aims to save money by increasing adjunct labor, at the cost of thorough and well-supported graduate research.

While faculty and students have been encouraged to seek further information on five-plus-two itself, we regret, that up to this point, faculty and graduate students have been excluded from a general conversation on the issue of student support. The particular character of the five-plus-two proposal reflects that exclusion. It ought to be noted that out of ten departments and programs within the School only three, Visual Studies, History, and Philosophy, decided to implement this initiative during the 2015-16 funding cycle. We believe that SOH should have a funding model that has received the support of its faculty and students, not one that sets out to create two tiers within it.

What kind of graduate training does this model presume? By shortening and incentivizing time-to-degree to five years, five-plus-two expressly devalues research and undermines critical, research-based dissertations. By increasing teaching load through the Assistant Adjunct Professor (AAP) positions in years six, and now only potentially renewable for a year seven, the model undermines the continuation of that research.

Please consider adding your name to the following document to express your concern about the implications of this funding model. To do so, comment on this post with your name and university affiliation (if any). 

We, the undersigned, are concerned that the Office of the Dean in UCI SOH is pursuing a funding model, the so-called “five-plus-two” model, which has very limited support throughout the School. Five-plus-two is supported by only three out of the ten departments and programs. As such, we find it problematic that the Office of the Dean is so vigorously supporting this funding model. The program does not have the legitimate basis of support within the School for an appeal to outside funding bodies such as the current application to the Mellon Foundation. 
In our estimation five-plus-two presents a problem for a number of departments as it would: a) compromise the expected standard of the dissertation within the relevant field of study by enforcing a time-to-degree of five years; b) compromise the extra-dissertation expectations of the department, such as field coverage, emphasis work, foreign language competency, and archival work; c) put undue pressure on faculty to prematurely approve students through the program, given the proposed "checkpoints" in years three and four; d) limit the capacity of departments to accept those students who do not have prior graduate work, or who may be inclined to change fields or add areas of expertise, and who may have lower test scores for whatever reasons—including English fluency—but propose interesting projects.

As it stands, five-plus-two tiers students within the School, making discretionary fellowship funds disproportionately available to those students within programs that have adopted the funding model (departments which will have had to accept five-plus-two as the only funding package for their incoming students). Under five-plus-two, previously competitive Dean's Fellowships are awarded to support the fellowship expense of five-plus-two students. At the same time, the availability of Summer Dissertation Fellowships has fallen to a record low of four as of this year. Five-plus-two therefore prioritizes and privileges a certain type of student and a certain type of project, devaluing the time and resources required to produce competitive academic research. It is not clear that students who obtain Assistant Adjunct positions in their final years will have the time or departmental relation to facilitate thorough research, especially while being on the job market. Supplementation with so-called “alt-ac” professionalization represents a stopgap measure and does not substitute for the support and encouragement of excellent and competitive academic research.  The five-plus-two funding model strongly internalizes a time-to-degree logic that privileges students who appear to be safe bets—including those with the extra-institutional resources—while negatively impacting those students who may experience extra-institutional limitations on their time, including those who support, or who may start families.

SOH administration and those on the Reconstitution Committee expressed concern over adjunct labor but have as yet no program to address adjunctification. "Five-plus-two" is a model of adjunctification, not one that addresses it. Research and teaching, previously done by graduate students within departments, is under this program to be done by stand-alone adjunct-laborers. Further, the AAP position, unlike full-time lecturer positions, is capped at one year and possibly one year of renewal, meaning that there is no access to even the promise of job-security through unionization. As such, graduate students will be forced to give up the protection of both the graduate student union (UAW 2865) and the lecturers’ union (UCAFT 2226) during their most precarious years of employment as AAPs. While the five-plus-two model increases adjunct labor, it also assumes that adjunct labor doesn't already exist. Currently Hum Core is taught by a combination of graduate students and, often, recently graduated lecturers who support themselves while on the job market. By forcing Hum Core to absorb incoming five-plus-two students in the future, those who currently teach Hum Core and Composition--often graduate students or UCI graduates with greater experience—may be displaced.

Thus it is a question of priority, not a question of resources. There have never been more composition sections and there have never been fewer SOH grads. It is our contention that the UCI School of Humanities and its administration should seek to support its graduate students in the completion of competitive research, with sufficient training in their field(s). It is widely recognized within the school that work which is critical, research-focused, interdisciplinary, and requiring language skills takes six to seven years. This is especially the case for less privileged entering students. The School should seek to pursue either funding packages that cover this duration, and/or post-doctoral research positions after graduation. Forcing students to graduate prematurely and then employing them on short-term AAP contracts with an increased teaching load may save money. However, such a funding model devalues carefully advised student research and, as a result, success on the job market. The School should seek to make more courses available for research-qualified students to teach, increasing not only the breadth and depth of undergraduate education, but also preparing graduate students for teaching in their future fields of expertise. The School as a whole suffers from a downward pressure on the number of its graduate students, and an increased, albeit externally produced, emphasis on speed of completion over quality of work. Should the Mellon grant be accepted and departments forced to opt in to a funding model constructed without their knowledge, input, or consent, we request that all measures be taken to reconfigure the terms of the grant’s disbursement in such a way that would secure more sixth and seventh year fellowships in accordance with a school-wide prioritization of rigorous and thoughtful academic research, a prioritization that would reflect commitment to maintaining the School's international reputation.