Graduate Student Association: Pressing Issues
for Graduate Students
Reprinted from the MIT Faculty Newsletter, Vol. XIII No. 2, October/November 2000.
Over the past five years, the cost of living for MIT students has increased dramatically. Stipends, however, have not. We are now in a situation where graduate students can barely break even at the end of each month, simply after paying for rent and feeding.
The Institute is being made of aware of this problem. Recently, the MIT senior administration has been trying to address this issue. For example, the approval of construction for the NW30 and the Sydney-Pacific dormitories will remove some of the pressure on the tight Cambridge and Somerville housing markets and will provide nearly 900 graduate students opportunities for more affordable housing close to campus.
However, the financial loss of the current MIT housing system is a burden that the administration is no longer ready to carry. Executive Vice President Curry and Chancellor Bacow are working towards achieving self-sustainability of the housing system. The plan is to increase on-campus rents by as much as five percent a year for the next five years. Compounding this increase over the five years will constitute a significant chunk of the graduate students' stipend.
Then, there is the cost of feeding. The price of meals in the MIT dining system (Lobdell, Networks, and Walker) have reached levels higher than neighboring cafes and restaurants (Au Bon Pain, Rebecca's, Thailand Cafe). Given that graduate students spend a large part of their time on campus, and dine in the nearest available facilities (i.e., the Lobdells and the Rebeccas), another significant part of the stipend is spent feeding on campus. Deducting the rent and the cost of meals leaves very little or nothing in terms of pocket money for purchasing study items (text books, stationery, etc.) and for entertainment.
Other schools similar to MIT, like Stanford and Northwestern, for example, offer significantly higher stipends not only to adequately cover for rent and feeding but also to leave behind more "pocket money" for students. This very stark contrast makes it harder for MIT to attract the best and brightest graduate students.
The MIT Graduate Student Council (GSC) is advocating an increase in stipend rates. As part of this increase, our number one priority is to achieve coverage of MIT health insurance for all graduate students. Other peer institutions already offer this benefit to their students. Up to 20-30 percent of research grants can help cover medical insurance and decrease the cost for MIT.
Medical insurance coverage and stipend increase are actively endorsed by Dr. Isaac M. Colbert, dean for Graduate Students, and Dr. Larry Benedict, dean for Student Life.
The current situation is critical and requires firm action. A lot of courage is required on the part of the faculty and the senior administration to approve the above issues. This will prove your genuine concern for caring about the quality of life of graduate students. It will also ease the problems of recruiting talented students. Please help us achieve this goal.
Recently, the GSC passed a Funding Policy resolution and passed it on to the faculty. If approved by the faculty, this resolution will require graduate students who receive funding from a research advisor to meet with their advisor, once a term, before TA application deadlines, to discuss their funding situation. At the meeting, the advisor would complete a form indicating if he/she is/not going to fund the student for the following term or if he/she is not sure about it. This latter situation may occur when a faculty member is not sure of a funding source or when he/she is not totally satisfied with the performance of the student and requires some tasks to be accomplished before the term ends.
Several departments, like Material Sciences and Engineering and Mechanical Engineering require such meetings every semester. These meetings, in addition, pave the way for dialogue between the graduate students and their advisors about funding and other relevant issues. In case there is no funding available or there is a doubt, students can duly look for other research opportunities or apply for teaching assistantship positions in time.
Please help support this resolution as it will definitely contribute to a healthy research experience.