September 27, 2011

Financial Constraints Stall Part of Graduate Community Initiative

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Correction appended

a proposed physical location for the graduate community — a component of the Graduate Community Initiative — has stalled as administrators say they lack the necessary funds to complete the project. The GCI aims, in part, to create a new graduate student center and improve graduate student housing.

Barbara Knuth, dean of the Cornell Graduate School, explained at a meeting of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Monday that though faculty recognize the need for a new or renovated space, it cannot take on such a project with the University’s current financial challenge.

“The notion of a quality, centralized space for graduate school life is thought to be very desirable,” Knuth said. “Given budget difficulties, facilities projects have been hit, so we don’t foresee this is going to happen.”

Though the graduate student center is a major goal of the GCI, the initiative also seeks to increase career services for graduate students and better integrate the graduate and professional communities for networking and career development purposes.

Evan Cortens grad, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, said that a new, larger graduate student center would be critical for the graduate student community.

“As much as we love the [Big Red] Barn, we recognize that it’s not big enough to handle some of the demands that are being placed on it — and it’s an old building,” Cortens said. “This was particularly obvious when the Barn closed for a month for structural repairs in February 2007, which left a number of graduate groups that had events scheduled there without a space.”

In addition to the Big Red Barn’s age and maintenance needs, graduate students have expressed concern about the social dynamics in the space, Knuth said. For example, students have suggested more interactions between departments, she said.

Graduate students have also said graduate housing options are in need of University attention. Two of the major graduate housing buildings, Hasbrouck and Maplewood, are at full capacity with waiting lists, according to Cortens.

However, Knuth said that this project would not commence immediately due to financial constraints.

“Maplewood is past its useful life,” Knuth said. “We are developing a strategy to finance rebuilding of the Maplewood area … But we won’t see anything happen in the next few years because of the financial reality.”

Cortens also saw room for improvement in graduate services. He said that although there are many services available to graduate students — from meeting spaces to career help — they are spread across campus.

To resolve this problem, the GPSA discussed creating a graduate school website to pool together these resources, Knuth said.

“A virtual graduate presence is not as effective as a building, but we need to work within constraints,” Knuth said.

While the administration works to resolve building issues, Knuth said that the graduate school and facilities management will work to ensure that the Big Red Barn receives necessary maintenance and remains available for graduate students. She added that those involved in the GCI have discussed clearing a space in Willard Straight Hall for a graduate center.

Despite their concerns, graduate students said they understood the financial challenges of the University.

“Graduate students really understand it,” Cortens said. “The University is simply not in a financial position to take on the debt.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Barbara Knuth, dean of the Graduate School, as saying that the Graduate Community Initiative had been stalled due to financial constraints. In fact, Knuth said that only a proposed physical location for the graduate community, which is one part of the GCI, has been stalled due to financial constraints, and that the GCI has been successful. Additionally, the article originally quoted Knuth as saying that students complain that students in different fields seldom intermingle. In fact, she simply said that the school could increase the current extent of cross-department socializing.

Original Author: Rachel Rabinowitz