Responding to student frustration, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences administrators modified student benefits this semester by granting more flexibility for guaranteed teaching spots and increasing the rate of supplemental payments.
The changes will allow students in the arts and humanities or social science divisions to invoke their guaranteed teaching outside of the third and fourth years. Prior to the modification, Ph.D. students were guaranteed four semesters of teaching only in their third and fourth years.
Teaching fellows eligible for a “top-up”—a supplement that equalizes funding for all Ph.D students—will also see a benefit. Instead of a one-time payment at the start of the semester, GSAS will now disburse top-up funding monthly. GSAS students may also accrue $3,000 from additional research and teaching jobs without a reduction in supplemental payments.
GSAS administrators said both modifications to funding packages—which were announced three days after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that undergraduate and graduate student teaching and research assistants have the right to form a union—resulted from student concerns.
“It was engagement with students, engagement with faculty, and internal deliberations and problem solving—how can we fix this, how can we address these things,” GSAS dean for administration and finance Allen Aloise said.
GSAS dean for admissions and financial aid Mohan D. Boodram said current issues around top-up funding were a “sore point” for many Ph.D. students.
The top-up benefit was introduced in 2005 to fill any gaps in funding as students enter their teaching years. Although Boodram said administrators initially considered the program innovative, students noticed that if they took on additional teaching or research, their top-up would be deducted.
“As they earned more, the amount of the incremental payment actually started decreasing dollar for dollar. So it felt like you were being penalized for doing extra effort, which was certainly never anyone’s intention,” Boodram said. He added that the increased frequency of top-up payment will help students throughout the semester.
“This will be a bit more burdensome for our staff because they’ll have to do a lot of corrections after the fact and a lot of auditing, but clearly it’s the right thing to do from our students point of view,” Boodram said.
Charles F. Bartlett, a Classics sixth-year student, said he will be largely unaffected by the changes, but praised the “flexibility” added to guaranteed teaching years.
Shortly after GSAS announced the funding package modifications, members of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers celebrated the change on the group’s Facebook page. Since April 2015, a group of graduate students has been organizing in the hope of forming a union.
“When we stand together, we win! Over the past year, our union has highlighted these issues, and our effort has pushed the administration to enact long overdue change,” the group posted.
Last year, GSAS rolled out several other benefits for students, including a 50 percent discount on T passes and a doubled stipend for expecting and adoptive parents. Members of the HGSU-UAW have said their campaign sparked those changes.
But Boodram said the most recent modifications to GSAS benefits are the continued results of ongoing discussions between administrators and students. Aloise and other administrators took part in “listening tours” of each department to speak with students and also met with faculty in half of the GSAS departments.
“This is a direct result of the listening tours,” Boodram said, referring to the new enhancements. He added that the changes have been in the works for the past six months.
Despite the improvements, HGSU-UAW organizers have called into question the application of benefits, which apply only to students receiving a Ph.D. In a Crimson op-ed, organizers argued that a union could ensure that non-Ph.D. seeking students receive equal benefits.—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.