How to Report on University Policy

Maybe people don't realize the metaphoric implications of talking about graduate funding and incentives as "carrots" and "sticks." Hopefully this illustration helps.

Maybe people don't realize the metaphoric implications of talking about graduate funding and incentives as "carrots" and "sticks." Hopefully this illustration helps.

Several people have brought to my attention this piece that recently appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The piece is bizarre.

I covered the changes to graduate funding on this blog here and here. When I covered it then, I did not take any position on the program itself. I did not claim that it is well designed, likely to succeed, fair to graduate students (in principle), or the opposite. And I won't now offer any such opinions either. 

What I will say is that the administration -- in particular Dean McGreevy -- was not then, and is not now, being honest about how Notre Dame designed, communicated about, and implemented this change. And now we're reading a story about the program that literally just takes the word of McGreevy (and a single professor in McGreevy's home department) at face value.

Reading the piece is like reading a university press release.

Departments were given adequate time leading up to the change, they tried out new course designs and structures, they changed requirements well in advance of its implementation so that students would be well into their dissertations by the end of their third years. 

As far as I can tell, these are lies or wild exaggerations.  

I spoke with DGS's during the implementation of this process who knew even less than grad students about the details of the proprosed program. And those details couldn't have been communicated up to a year in advance (as was implied by the article), because they weren't finalized until after the program was officially rolled out. 

And then there's the question of why the piece seems to suggest that this program is an incredible success (it's called "exemplary" and it is suggested that it has overcome persistent challenges and outperformed all similar programs that have come before it). 

The program is less than a year old. The only effects of it so far have been massive confusion within departments, who have mostly scrambled to scrap as many requirements as they can so that students in their first and second years will not find themselves in the positions that current 4th and 5th years have found themselves, who were expected to have met rigorous requirements up through the end of their 3rd year and sometimes into their fourth year, and who are now being told that funding beyond year five (no matter the circumstances) is "not guaranteed" (**THWACK!** That's the sound of a stick).

The article that appeared in CHE is irresponsible from a journalistic perspective. It took the words of the administrator who designed and implemented the program as fact, and -- so far as I can tell -- based the assessment of the effectiveness of the program on the word of a single professor in the home department of that very administrator (what was he supposed to say?!).  

It makes it sound like the program has achieved something when the program isn't even old enough to have generated any data that would support that claim.

I wrote to the author of the piece (Professor Leonard Cassuto), and I would encourage others to do the same.

 

To: <lcassuto@erols.com>

Dear Professor Cassuto,

I recently read your piece on the College of Arts and Letters new funding structure at Notre Dame.

I'm a graduate student at the university of Notre Dame (I'm in the philosophy department), and I wanted to let you know that your piece seems wildly inaccurate from my perspective. I realize that it's likely to strike me in a different way than an average (or more disinterested) reader, but the piece read as though you'd just interviewed Dean McGreevy and someone in the history department and took their word on how the program was designed and implemented.

From my perspective, the program was designed in a hurry and implemented with virtually no preparation. For instance, you say that departments started experimented with alternative course offerings in advance, and that they had been told to start changing structural requirements before the program was rolled out -- but I know for a fact that our department didn't not know the full details of the program even weeks before it was announced as fully implemented (they couldn't have, since the details were not even finalized until *after* it was rolled out).

Some of my concerns (and the concerns of other grad students) were summarized on my blog here: http://paul-blaschko.squarespace.com/blog/2016/2/22/funding-woes, and here: http://paul-blaschko.squarespace.com/blog/2016/3/4/funding-woes-part-2

As I said there, I have not taken a position on whether the program is (or is likely to be) effective (I'm a grad student in philosophy, not an administrator or a social scientist, or an expert on graduate education), but I do think that much of what Dean McGreevy told you is simply false, and much of what was implied by your article was -- as a result -- inaccurate.

I'm happy to talk to you about this at greater length if you'd like, or to answer any questions you might have by email.

Thanks very much,

Paul Blaschko, 

University of Notre Dame