Graduate students often feel excluded from campus social life and low on the University administration's priorities, representatives of the Graduate Student Government (GSG) said at a Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) meeting Monday.
Reporting on a recent Ivy Summit conference where they met with delegations from the seven other Ivy League schools, graduate students Leslie Hinkson and Shin-Yi Lin expressed concern over what they see as an inferior status frequently foisted upon the University's graduate student population.
Their presentation was followed by a statement from University Provost Christopher Eisgruber '83, who reported on the Priorities Committee's ongoing deliberations on the University's operating budget. The committee's funding recommendations will become public in January after the University's Board of Trustees gives its approval.
Hinkson — who, along with Lin, two other graduate students and two administrators, comprised the University's delegation to the summit — said undergraduates' attitudes toward graduate students were particularly troubling.
"There is a real perception of having second-class citizen status," she said, noting this may not be as true for grad students in science and engineering. "When there were discussions and focus groups about the four-year residential colleges with undergraduates at Wilson College and undergraduates were asked about the role of grad students, the two words they used most often to describe them were 'sketchy' and 'weird.' "
"We think we're normal people," she added, "but we're made to feel this way. We can be sitting near you in Café [Vivian] and see you giving us the sidelong glance. A big part of the status thing is perception — perception is as important as reality."
To fix problems associated with graduate students' social life, Lin — who chairs the GSG — noted that Yale has established consolidated residential areas for graduate students based on academic or professional interests. But she said this may not be the way to go for Princeton and other Ivies with smaller grad student populations.
"That seems like a separate-but-equal arrangement," she said. "We need to integrate, to make grad students feel welcome in all different areas on campus. They feel like they're lumped in with faculty and staff in some cases, with undergrads at other times. Sometimes grad students feel like, 'Wait a second, where is our actual space?' "
During the question-and-answer section of the presentation, U-Councilor Sandy Gibson '06 suggested the establishment of a centrally-located campus bar where graduate students and undergraduates could interact. In an interview after the meeting, he added that the idea was well-received when it was proposed last year, and that the USG hopes to move forward with the plan this year.
But Hinkson said the idea could pose problems.
"Social interaction between grad students and undergrads where alcohol is involved is sort of a taboo thing on this campus as opposed to other campuses," Hinkson said. "That's possibly because this is such a small campus, [and] that sort of interaction possibly [could lead] to romantic entanglements. I don't know how that would work with the two of you possibly meeting in a precept situation."
During the presentation, Hinkson also highlighted room for improvement in the "family-friendliness" of the administration's policies toward graduate students. While students are generally satisfied with the quality of the healthcare provided to their dependent family members, she said the University lags behind its peers when it comes to its cost.
As an example, Hinkson noted that the cost-per-term for a grad student with three dependents is $750 at Columbia, while she herself pays $1,800 per term to support three dependents. She added that the issue is "intimately tied with female faculty retention."
Hinkson also called for better advising and mentoring for grad students.
"Incentives need to be put in place for more faculty to reach out to students in a mentorship world," she said. "At Yale, they offer free meals [when professors meet with grad students in an advisory capacity] ... We're not always saying professors need monetary incentives to do good works, but it doesn't hurt."
Regarding the issue of minority students, Hinkson and Lin said discussion at the Ivy Summit became "very heated" when the topic of diversity was raised.
Hinkson said the numbers of underrepresented minorities among graduate students "don't approach" those seen at the undergraduate level, and added that she doesn't believe any Ivy League school has developed a "coherent or effective plan" for addressing this problem.
"Might we look outside walls of ivy to, say, the University of Michigan for some inspiration?" she added. "Other peer institutions outside the Ivy League seem to do better."
Later during the CPUC meeting, Eisgruber said the Priorities Committee — a branch of the CPUC that deliberates on the University's operating budget — is "very far along" in discussing its recommendations.
While those recommendations cannot be made public until the Board of Trustees votes on them in January, Eisgruber did discuss some of the funding requests the committee has received from University departments.
These include a request from the Office of Information Technology to fund a 24/7 helpdesk, and a request from the admissions office for funding to help recruit minority and low-income students.
Eisgruber added that the Priorities Committee will meet with the finance committee of the Board of Trustees later in the week.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2005/12/13/14123/