Thursday, November 14, 2013

Berkeley Chairs Letter in Support of Increased Graduate Student Support

Dear Dean Szeri:

As the new academic year begins, we have had time to reflect on the admissions process that has yielded this year’s new crop of Ph.D. students. While many Berkeley departments are at the top of the national rankings, we must continue to recruit the very best graduate students to maintain our rankings. Yet the competitiveness of our highly ranked Ph.D. programs greatly depends upon the level of graduate student stipends we can offer; in this regard we have increasingly fallen behind our peer institutions.  According to the most recent UCOP Graduate Student Support Survey, the gap between UC stipend offers for years one and two and those from ‘top-choice’ peer institutions grew between 2007 and 2010 to $2,697 and together with the higher cost of living at UC institutions created a total deficit of $4,978.  When surveyed, prospective graduate students consistently praise UC’s academic resources but admit being driven elsewhere by the higher cost of living and lower levels of financial support (  Since these figures reflect UC as a whole, and also date from 2010, the current gap between Berkeley campus and our rival institutions may well be even higher. The Report of the Taskforce on Competitiveness in Academic Graduate Student Support, adopted by UC Academic Council in June 2012, declares “rising tuition and uncompetitive stipends threaten to seriously undermine program quality” and asks that additional resources be allocated for net stipends for academic doctoral support (CAGSSGradCompetitivenessPaper_072012.pdf).

The GSI wage in particular is so low that our students often take more than one outside job to make ends meet in a high cost-of-living area, thereby retarding their time to degree, on which there are now normative, consequential caps. Currently the 10 month (49.5%) GSI stipend is $17,655 for an incoming student, though our campus financial aid office estimates that $21,608 is required to cover the cost of living for 9 months ( while the campus desired target for doctoral students is $26,000. Our best students may come in with fellowships, but their income drastically falls as soon as they start teaching to levels that are sometimes nearly half that being provided at our rival private institutions. Greater consciousness of debt burdens and unfavorable academic job futures mean that talented Ph.D. students today are less and less willing to choose a school they may intellectually prefer over a school that provides more economic security. In order to keep attracting the best students, therefore, departments increasingly resort to topping up students' support during their teaching years by tapping the department’s own limited funds, which include the Graduate Division’s block grant award. If not for this practice of topping up, the reported gap between UC stipend offers and other top institutions cited in the UCOP Graduate Student Support Survey would be far greater. However, without a higher GSI base wage, departments have to finance graduate programs through scarce and unpredictable resources, which may, for some departments, be unsustainable in the long run.

The recruitment of the best students has become increasingly difficult given our financial disadvantage, and we are already worried about the next season. We believe higher GSI wages, along with a commensurate increase in TAS funds to cover increased salaries, will help to level the playing field, and cease to disadvantage our departments. We hope that Berkeley campus will be able to communicate to UCOP the importance of this issue to our academic distinction.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth Berry
Chair, Anthropology

Steven Boggs
Chair, Physics

Benjamin Brinner
Chair, Music

Catherine Ceniza Choy
Chair, Ethnic Studies

Catherine Cole
Chair, Theater, Dance and Performance Studies

Marianne Constable
Chair, Rhetoric

Mark A. Csikszentmihalyi
East Asian Languages and Cultures

Penelope Edwards
Chair, South and Southeast Asian Studies

John Ferrari,
Chair, Classics

Deniz Gokturk
Chair, German

Joshua Goldstein
Chair, Demography

Richard Harland and David H. Raulet
Co-Chairs, Molecular and Cell Biology

John P. Huelsenbeck
Chair, Integrative Biology

Rich Ivry
Chair, Psychology

Phil Kaminsky
Industrial Engineering and Operations Research

Margaret Larkin
Chair, Department of Near Eastern Studies

John MacFarlane
Chair, Philosophy

Samer Madanat
Chair, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Na’ilah Suad Nasir,
Chair, African American Studies

Ignacio Navarrete,
Chair, Spanish & Portuguese

Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe
Chair, English

Arthur Ogus,
Chair, Mathematics

James L. Powell
Chair, Economics

Raka Ray
Chair, Sociology

Juana Maria Rodriguez
Chair, Gender and Women’s Studies

Mark Sandberg
Chair, Scandinavian

Miryam Sas
Chair, Comparative Literature

Nathan Sayre
Chair, Geography

Eric Schickler
Chair, Political Science

Ethan Shagan,
Chair, History

Philip B. Stark
Chair, Statistics

Kristen Whissel
Chair, Film and Media

Hertha D. Sweet Wong
Chair, Art Practice

cc. Chancellor Nicholas Dirks
      EVCP George Breslauer


Anonymous said...

At Least Berkeley has GSI II, II, and IV levels so that it is possible to pay TAs more there.

I thought that UC was one system for the TA union—how do they get to use a different pay scale from the other campuses?

At Santa Cruz, we have only one TA pay scale, which is the official UC one equivalent to UCB's GSI I. Our department pays research students GSR 8 levels (in order to have a chance of competing with other schools), so it is a pay cut for a student to be a TA instead, even if the department covers their campus fees (which a GSR covers, but TAship does not).

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