Dear Members of the Graduate Student Assembly,
I hope you have had a pleasant, productive summer and that the school year has started well! I am writing to let you know about some recent events that will affect the Graduate Student Assembly. On Thursday, August 21st, David Villarreal informed me that he would no longer be continuing as the President of the GSA; he will be focusing personal matters over the coming year. I am sure all graduate students can understand the precarious balance we must strike between our work and our lives outside that work. I have thanked him profusely for his tireless work for the GSA, and he has offered me his counsel moving forward. Pursuant to our constitution (Article IV, Sec 2.1), I have taken on the role of the President of the Graduate Student Assembly and plan to continue in this role.
This does mean, though, that the office of Vice-President is vacant. According to the Constitution (Article IV, Sec 2.2), it is my duty to appoint a candidate to the position who must be confirmed by a 2/3 affirmative vote of the Assembly. I believe that there are fantastic, qualified, passionate individuals who can fill this position, and I am asking for those interested in filling this position to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite this change in leadership, we have a dedicated, brilliant Executive Committee and Assembly, and I believe we will make this a year to remember! There are many projects left to tackle (e.g., passage of new governing documents, the passage of Graduate Student Bill of Rights, the push for better housing, among many others!), and I know that this Assembly is more than capable of changing graduate life at UT Austin for the better.
President – Graduate Student Assembly
The Graduate Student Assembly is now accepting appropriations applications for registered graduate student organizations in order to assist your projects during the Fall 2014 semester. Completed applications must be submitted online HERE by Thursday, September 4th, 2014 at 5:00 PM Central Time.
Funds will be available starting in September and must be spent by the last class day of the Fall semester (Friday, December 5th, 2014). Each organization must also indicate its available times for interviews via the following Doodle poll. Applicants must type both organization and interviewee name, eg GSA-Jack Xu.
Please contact Finance Director Jack Xu with any questions.
The Department of Radio-Television-Film
Executive Committee and Media Studies Faculty
The University of Texas at Austin
2504 Whitis Ave. Stop A0800
Graduate Student Statement of Position
We are writing in order to clarify graduate students’ views regarding the funding plan unveiled on May 8th at the town hall meeting.
We understand and appreciate that the program’s new funding structure will benefit students entering the program this fall, and will offer an AI stipend increase or OGS fellowship to current students. This increase in funding addresses not only our program’s funding structure vis-a-vis peer programs in the field, but also considers the escalating cost of living in Austin. We also appreciate the department’s optimism that the overall situation may improve as current students matriculate out of the program, and the Moody Endowment’s contributions to the department become available.
However, we remain concerned about how this newly implemented plan will affect current students. Especially at risk are students entering their third, fourth, and fifth years of study, who matriculated prior to the department’s graduate curricular reform and thus under different coursework requirements than incoming students. As the department’s new funding plan was unveiled to students late in the 2014 spring term, many fifth year students are now struggling to find alternate outside sources of funding for the 2014/2015 academic year at this late date. More generally, there is a great deal of uncertainty as to how the department plans to manage the transition to the new funding and curricular structure and help provide the support students need to complete their degrees.
Below is a detailed enumeration of our concerns:
1.) Although we recognize that the program only offers four years of guaranteed funding, the withdrawal of previously available fifth year funding opportunities places a heavy financial burden on students. The new funding plan most critically affects more advanced students who followed a two and a half year coursework and four year teaching plan. Without departmental assistance, out-of state students–many of whom have already needed to take out significant loans to finance their graduate degrees–are faced with a tuition bill of $7,000 per semester. All unfunded students will have to purchase health care at a minimum cost of over $1,400 per year. External funding opportunities from other departments, though sometimes available, are scarce and widespread cuts to the humanities have further exacerbated this situation.
2.) Many students must work off-campus jobs either as a supplemental or primary form of income, which further delays dissertation completion, while not obviating the need for student loans. For international students, the problem is even more acute, as they do not have the option of finding off campus employment and risk not being able to get their student visas extended. The new funding plan also disproportionately affects economically disadvantaged graduate students, who have fewer funding options and are more vulnerable to funding constraints.
3.) According to data the department provided the GSO, from fall 2001 to summer 2011, nearly 80% of students in the program required a fifth year to complete their degree, and, since then, the time-to-degree has not decreased. For over a decade, RTF’s median time-to-degree has been 5.5 years. Historically, the department has found support for the majority of those students (about 75% between 2010-11 and 2013-14). The reduction of available fifth year funds is precipitous: presently only 17% of students currently entering their fifth year are receiving funding in fall 2014. We are deeply worried that this will limit students’ ability not only to complete their degrees, but also to cultivate a strong research portfolio and professional record that will make them competitive in an increasingly difficult job market. We all strive to complete our degrees in a timely fashion in order to minimize student debt. However, fulfilling the program’s coursework/teaching requirements and completing a dissertation project, while concomitantly working outside jobs, performing service to the department and University community, presenting research at national/international conferences, and striving to publish peer-reviewed articles in top academic journals, is an increasingly difficult endeavour to accomplish in four years. The current reduction in full-time academic jobs has produced an increasingly competitive job market that necessitates a program of study that best positions students to meet these conditions and compete for tenure track positions at peer institutions.
4.) We believe that our program’s prestige and placement record depend, in part, on its ability to support the production of well-researched dissertation projects that make significant contributions to our areas of study. Work of this quality often demands a mastery of multiple fields and requires a rigorous research program, including, but not limited to: substantial periods of data-gathering; considerable amounts of fieldwork and human subjects research; extensive archival research at local, national, and international archives; language acquisition; and/or close analysis of a large body of media texts. The financial realities of an unfunded fifth year of study increases the pressure for students to complete their dissertation at an accelerated pace, which risks compromising the quality of work they are able to produce. We are, therefore, worried that the changes to the department’s funding policy will negatively impact both students’ ability to pursue and conduct valuable research and, by extension, the program’s well-respected place in the field.
5.) While we recognize that the stipend increase aims to help the department successfully recruit top candidates to the program, we fear that the reduction in previously available fifth year funds will not only impact current students’ ability to complete strong dissertation projects, but also make the program’s funding structure less competitive with other programs that offer more opportunities for fifth year funding or funded years that require no teaching.
As graduate students, we are strongly invested in higher education and share The University of Texas at Austin’s commitment to teaching, research, and public service excellence. We strongly believe, however, that the newly implemented funding policy negatively affects Ph.D. students, the undergraduate students for whom we provide a significant amount teaching and mentoring, and the department alike.
We hope that this letter clarifies our position on the funding crisis created by a plan that does not adequately support fifth year students. We ask that the department take into account the serious concerns the new funding structure raises and the damage it could do to current and future graduate students’ careers. As the department finalizes fall funding this July, we urge it to consider measures that might mitigate the acute crisis facing current fifth year students. We also encourage the department to begin contemplating longer term solutions for current fourth, third, and second years. Much like our colleagues in the College of Liberal Arts, with whom we stand in solidarity, we believe that more conversation and transparency are key to developing viable funding policies that are in keeping with the realities of the required time for degree completion, changing job market conditions, and the department’s own interest in attracting top PhD candidates. In the fall, the GSO will offer a proposal to address the funding issues stated above and we respectfully request that you take our plan into close consideration.
1. Students who’ve taken out loans to make up the $8,000 difference between RTF’s stipend and the cost of attendance will need to enroll for 6 credit hours in order to keep loans out of repayment. Minimum continuing 3-credit-hour enrollment costs over $3,000 per semester.