A better Princeton for graduate students, a better Princeton for everyone| Mar 12, 2015
We, the Graduate Student Government Executive Committee, have completed our year at the helm of the University’s graduate representative body. After advocating for graduate interests on campus and expending significant effort to make the best of the challenging circumstances surrounding the Lakeside housing complex, we would like to leave some parting thoughts as we pass the baton to our promising successors.
Graduate students occupy an uncomfortable space on this campus. In many ways, the University’s college and undergraduate program are its very heart, and always will be. Just the same, the University discharges its mission as both a teaching and research institution far better as a university than it ever could as a college — and the University would not be a university without the Graduate School.
Even though the University’s graduate students play roles both indispensable and innumerable in support of teaching and research, we remain largely campus outsiders to the detriment of all Princetonians and to the benefit of none. We believe that the solution to this challenge is straightforward, but not trivial. A significant problem demands a significant remedy, and there aren’t any shortcuts to strengthening the University’s graduate community.
Graduate students are outsiders in large part because the graduate student experience at the University has long been defined by the experience of displacement. Unlike undergraduates, graduates cannot expect to spend their years here in campus housing. Nearly all of us, at some point in our graduate careers, are forced to leave campus housing and the close-knit community it fosters. Moreover, even graduate students who are able to stay can find themselves unmoored in a campus community that has little place for a graduate student culture outside of individual departments. This is an experience that hurts the entire campus community and accounts substantially for low graduate alumni participation. It is hard to ask graduate students to contribute when they never felt like they belonged.
We believe the correct and overdue course of action is for the university to expand its graduate housing capacity and to reallocate room on the central campus to establish a meeting, study and social space dedicated to graduate students.
A call for more graduate housing from members of the GSG should come as no surprise to any informed party. The constancy of this item on the GSG’s agenda over the past decade is telling. Expansion of graduate housing is a demonstrated structural need, not a passing fancy. While the imminent (fingers crossed) completion of Lakeside Graduate Housing is exciting, it nonetheless barely compensates for the closure of the Hibben and Magie, Butler and Stanworth complexes, ultimately yielding an overall decrease in graduate housing capacity from around 80 percent to around 70 percent of regularly enrolled graduate students. This figure is too low without further qualification, and it doesn’t include students past their fifth year of study, nor does it account for future growth in the graduate student body. Lakeside represents a significant improvement in graduate housing quality, but is merely a stopgap in terms of capacity. More is needed.
At present housing levels, practically all University Ph.D. students who elect to live in university housing are forced to vacate their university residence during the course of their graduate program, often during the critical fourth year. Housing in the Princeton area is sparse and expensive, so most of these students must find apartments in surrounding towns and buy a car if they don’t already own one. Each time this happens, a member of the University’s residential community leaves to become a commuter and our graduate community is weakened. Therefore, it is our strong belief that the University should construct additional graduate housing in support of its graduate students and the University community. This housing should be proximal to campus, it should be affordable, and it should structurally support the growth of residential community through provision of central and flexible meeting and activity space.
The call for centrally located graduate student space on campus has not historically been marked by the same high profile as has the matter of graduate housing, but dates back at least as far as 2007, when the GSG published a detailed proposal for an on-campus graduate center. The University trails its peers — nearly all of whom provide a centrally located graduate space — in this regard, and the campus community suffers. An appropriate graduate facility would provide configurable space for use by student groups, workspace where graduate students — alone or in groups — can study outside their departments, and an inviting lounge.
Such a facility would encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and socialization among graduate students. It would give graduate students a physical touchpoint on, a meaningful connection to, and reason to frequent the central campus. Finally, it would help provide for graduate students who lack convenient or sufficient workspace in their departments. In short, dedicated on-campus space would enrich Princeton’s graduate community in ways we can today only imagine.
There are no losers in a future where the University houses a greater proportion of its graduate students, and there are no disadvantages to a University community that brings its graduate students deeper into the fold. Apart from graduate students themselves, every element of the campus community stands to benefit from such enhancements: undergraduates will get better, more engaged preceptors and a wider field from which to draw friends and mentors; faculty will gain a happier, more local, more available and more productive research workforce; and administrators will enjoy greater collaboration with smart, invested volunteers on University committees, task forces, and focus groups.
A better University for graduate students is a better University for everyone. Let’s take the first steps towards making this better University a reality.
THE 2014-15 GSG EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
Sean Edington, President
Mircea Davidescu, Vice President
Julia Wittes, Secretary
Rachael Barry, Treasurer
Thomas Morrell, Communications Director
Mike Hepler, Special Events Officer
Ça??n Ararat, Academic Affairs Chair
Andrew Edwards, Facilities and Transportation Chair
Pam Mueller, Health and Life Chair
April Williams, Social Chair