Getting Students to Finish Dissertations May Be Top Priority for the New Dean

Just as life at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is improving, Harvard is trying to find ways to shorten students' stays.

When Mason Professor of Music Christoph Wolff assumes the deanship in July, he should focus on decreasing the amount of time graduate students take to complete their dissertations and move on to academia, his colleagues say.

"My view is the time to degree is unacceptably long," says Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles. Knowles says the average graduate student obtains a Ph.D. in about 5.8 years in the natural sciences, 6.8 in the social sciences and 8.4 in the humanities.

Outgoing Graduate School Dean Brendan A. Maher says a bleak job market encourages students to remain at Harvard. Employment opportunities are scarce, and the national recession has delayed a predicted increase in jobs in academia, Maher says.

In addition, Maher says, the uncapping of the mandatory retirement age--which will tbe required under federal law in 1994--will mean still fewer job openings in academia.


Students also stay longer because they must juggle teaching duties and dissertation work, administrators say. Many students take on extensive teaching duties in order to support themselves financially.

"That's why they can't write their theses," Knowles notes. "They're having to eat."

One way to motivate stagnant students, officials suggest, is to decrease the amount of teaching they must take on.

Many say Harvard must reallocate resources to establish more teaching grants and dissertation fellowships. Maher says extra help is especially needed in the humanities, where fewer grants are currently available.

Shifting the teaching burden away from graduate students would mean greater involvement for professors, Maher notes. "We may have to...face the necessity of the faculty to personally do more of the undergraduate teaching than they used to do."

As Mother Harvard tries to push her doctoral candidates out of the nest, fledgling scholars in the graduate school enjoy the resources of Dudley House, a long-awaited student center.

Dudley "is as vital to the lives of graduate students as the house system is to undergraduates at the College," says third-year music student Kathryn J. Welter, president of the Graduate Student Council.

Maher says the new center has in creased "awareness of the Graduate School as an entity within FAS."

As the Graduate School community grew more cohesive this year, life for graduate students at Yale University lapsed into disarray. Members and supporters of the school's graduate studentunion demanded several reforms, including higherpay, during a widely publicized strike inFebruary.

Students here looked at the strike withinterest but felt little connection with their NewHaven counter-parts, Welter says. Harvard studentswere certainly "not dissatisfied enough to want toform a union," she says.

Harvard graduate students generally find theirteaching salaries to be competitive with those atother universities, Welter says.