February 8, 2001

Yale Increases Graduate Student Stipends

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In what some perceive to be an attempt by the administration to discourage unionization, Yale University announced plans in January to increase stipends provided to graduate students next year.

Doctoral candidates in the humanities and social sciences will receive a nine-month stipend of $13,700 during the 2001-02 academic year. The future earnings represent an approximately 20 percent increase from the current school year compensation for graduate students.

The university will also increase funds for doctoral students in the sciences, for whom rates vary from field to field.

“This year’s unusually large increase is motivated by our desire to remain competitive with other leading institutions that have substantially increased financial aid for doctoral study over the past two years,” said Susan Hockfield, dean of Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, in a letter to doctoral candidates and graduate school faculty in January.

“Our general strategy has been to devote as much Graduate School funding as possible to improving stipends for all students, rather than subsidizing particular activities. This approach not only benefits the largest possible number of students, but [it] gives each student maximum flexibility to decide how an increase in funding might be used for his or her specific needs,” Hockfield continued.

This increase comes at the height of a decade-long effort by Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) to unionize the university’s 2,200 graduate students.

For years, the university has argued that doctoral candidates are not employees, and therefore cannot form a union. However, a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which granted graduate students the right to unionize, rekindled GESO’s efforts.

The October ruling classified graduate students at New York University — and other private institutions — as employees of the university, who have the right to bargain collectively since they are compensated for their work as teaching assistants, graduate assistants and research assistants.

Yale’s graduate students have cited long work hours and low compensation, among other issues, as their strongest motivations to unionize.

“When unions try to get recognized, if an employer has the resources and commitment to fight that union, they’ll try to do what’s necessary to dissuade them from organizing,” said graduate student organizer Rebecca Ruquist, a French doctoral candidate, to the Associated Press.

According to university officials, Yale increases graduate student stipends regularly and the recent raise was not an attempt to discourage students from forming a union.

“To attract the very best students for graduate study at Yale, we must continue to strengthen our environment for graduate education, improving both our academic programs and our financial aid packages. The recent improvements in financial aid, taken together with the continued growth and diversification of [the] Graduate School’s programs, reflect a commitment to graduate education as a keystone of the university’s future,” Hockfield said.

The Yale graduate student organizing campaign has been regarded as one of the most active efforts in the country.

At Cornell, despite the NLRB’s ruling, graduate students have no motivation to form a union, according to Patrick Carr grad, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA).

Currently, Cornell’s Graduate School pays $12,925 for nine-month positions and $17,233 for twelve-month positions to teaching and research assistants. Graduate students are represented in University governance by GPSA.

“There hasn’t been a lot of talk about unionizing for five years. That movement died with the formation of the GPSA,” Carr said.

Cornell graduate students are content with the amount of money they receive, according to Carr. He said the administration works well to keep current students happy and attract new students by including health insurance with the stipend, for example.

“I don’t think conditions warrant [unionizing],” Carr added. “Between the fact that conditions are equitable and that it’s a temporary position, there’s not much drive to unionize.”

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin