On November 1, our union's executive council unanimously voted to endorse the "Resolution for the Address and Correction of the TA/GA Professional Development Fund," and I am writing to you, as a Graduate Program Director, to seek your endorsement of that resolution.
This resolution came up as a response from our union's graduate student constituency to the many failings of the TA/GA Professional Development Fund (PDF). As you all know, the PDF is an allotment of $2.7 million that the administration agreed contractually to distribute to graduate students over four years. The fund was to include a competitive application process and a seven-person review committee made up of faculty and deans. The language was left purposefully vague so that graduate students would be able to apply for funds that meet their needs, which often vary from year to year depending on their financial position: one applicant might need money for conference travel, another for rent over the summer. The contract did specify – in no uncertain terms – that the seven-person committee should review all applications.
Unfortunately, the administration failed to manage adequately the application and review processes for this fund. First, the graduate school asked graduate program directors and graduate chairs to rank applicants without establishing relevant, detailed criteria. For the latest round of PDF applications, the same office then disregarded all applicants ranked lower than a “5” for “excellent.” Deans never explained that exclusion to graduate directors or any faculty. As a result of the exclusion, the seven-person committee of the graduate school declined to read fully 45.2% of the applications in this most recent round of the program. Inequities abounded: a department with 23 applicants received no awards while, in some departments, 100% of the applicants won funding (clearly some graduate directors had figured out how to “game” the system and others had not or chose not to do so). In the end, the graduate school threw faculty “under the bus,” so to speak, creating tension between graduate students and their unwitting graduate directors.
In light of this high-level mismanagement, graduate student union leaders wish to overhaul the TA-GA PDF. They are demanding that the two remaining rounds of the fund be compressed into one cycle beginning in January 2017 and terminating in March 2017. They further demand that the graduate school allocate the remaining $1.55 million equally among all the eligible applicants. They recognize that many faculty would prefer a merit-based approach, but it seems clear that the graduate school administration lacks the capacity to run such a fund with fair and consistent procedures that follow the contract language. This summer the union officially circulated a survey to all TA-GAs asking for their feedback on PDF. A solid majority - 68% - of respondents said they want the remaining funds equally distributed.
As faculty, and especially as graduate program directors, I hope that you will stand behind and endorse this resolution today. I have learned that some of you may feel that the contractual and legal nature of this dispute somehow prevents you from speaking out, as if you were parties to a lawsuit. I assure that labor-management disagreements are different from litigation. One part of our union is asking for support from another part of it; graduate student employees are asking for the support of their professors. It is that simple. If you are a graduate program director and you are willing to endorse this resolution, you may sign the online resolution endorsement here.
If you have questions or comments, or would like to meet in person to discuss these issues, please feel free to email me. You can also email our organizer Ms. Anna Barcy, or representative from the TA/GA Union steering committee, Ms. Allyssa Sobey with further questions. Their emails are listed below:
Anna Barcy, email@example.com
Allyssa Sobey, firstname.lastname@example.org
David M. Hughes
President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Professor of Anthropology (SAS-New Brunswick)
11 Stone Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Office phone: (732) 964-1000