After some graduate students criticized a change in their summer stipend distribution, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will allow students to receive their stipend in one lump sum on June 1, as it has in past years.
On April 13, 825 students received an email from the GSAS Financial Aid Office informing them that they would receive summer funding payments in two installments, one on July 1 and August 1.
Soon after sending out this email, though, the GSAS Financial Aid Office provided an alternative to its proposed payment plan. In an email sent on April 18, GSAS Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Mohan Boodram said students who requested a lump sum payment on June 1 would receive it.
Students said they were concerned about this initial change to their stipend payments.
“I was somewhat upset and even distraught at the time when I realized what had been done to the payment schedule,” said Eben Lazarus, a graduate student who has advocated for Harvard students to form a union.
He also criticized GSAS for this choice, asserting the school did not ask for student feedback before changing summer stipend payments.
“It felt completely arbitrary and against my interests,” he said. “It made my life more difficult and stressful.”
In an email, GSAS spokesperson Ann Hall wrote the school changed the payment schedule because of student feedback.
“GSAS heard from students in a number of ways,” she wrote. “The staff of the Office of Financial Aid meet regularly and privately with students regarding confidential matters related to their financial aid.”
Gabriel Tourek, a graduate student and union organizer, criticized GSAS for announcing this change weeks before the beginning of summer.
“I find it very strange and worrisome financially,” he said.
In an emailed statement, Hall wrote GSAS made the change after realizing from student feedback that “students would prefer to count on a regular monthly disbursement rather than a lump sum payment at the beginning of the summer.”
Students praised GSAS for deciding they could request to be paid in June.
“I’m happy that they responded to the many students who called and emailed them to address the changes to policy,” Lazarus said. “I think it’s a good change that they are now willing to grant individuals in need of cash in June.”
Hall said that GSAS has not decided whether the new payment schedule will become standard practice.
“Our policies are reviewed regularly, and decisions are guided by what is best for students as they communicate their concerns to us,” she wrote.
Union organizers argued Harvard’s decision to change payment schedules demonstrated the need for a student union.
The debate over summer stipend payments comes just as a National Labor Relations Board official recommended that Harvard hold a new student unionization election if uncounted votes from the first election do not yield a union victory.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
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