A Holiday Surprise from the Grad School

Today the Graduate School announced the creation of a task force to assess “climate for graduate assistants at Penn State.” This task force came as a surprise to much of the graduate and professional student leadership at Penn State, since they were only nominally consulted in the process of establishing it. The Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) feels that both our organization and the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) could be strong resources in the university’s efforts to understand and improve graduate life, but frankly, we’ve been left in the dark on a lot of issues.

We ask that the graduate school respond to the following questions as soon as possible so that we are able to be as helpful as possible:

  1. From our understanding, the task force participants have already been selected. Is this true? If not, how can one become a part of this task force?

    1. Will the selection reflect the great diversity of the PSU graduate worker and graduate faculty population? Will graduate workers at commonwealth campuses be represented?

    2. Why was there not an open call for graduate assistants to participate?

    3. Which faculty members will participate? Are all departments and colleges represented equally?

  2. How will the task force approach addressing its broad concerns? Will this focus be narrowed eventually? Is this task force going to tackle concerns of graduate and professional students, or is it only focused on graduate assistants?

  3. What is the timeline of the task force? Is there a plan for public input throughout its duration?

  4. Will the findings of this task force be made public? When, and in what ways, will it be made accessible to the people it aims to address?

  5. Why were none of the formal bodies of graduate students consulted in developing this task force? Neither the GPSA nor the Graduate Council currently have formal access to the task force, nor formal representation on the task force.

  6. Will this task force make public more information about the status of graduate assistants including: the number of graduate assistants (both total and by college), graduate assistant demographic information (race, gender, nativity status, etc.),  a breakdown of stipends (including the minimum stipends), breakdowns on graduate assistantships that are research focused verseus teaching focused, the number of courses with a graduate assistant as the instructor of record, and other pertinent information to judge graduate assistant climate?

We believe that CGE and PSU Administration can find common ground in their shared desire to provide a good working environment for graduate and professional students, which is why the mystery and confusion surrounding this task force is concerning. Without answers to these questions and broad involvement in the process, we fear that this task force will be a merely bureaucratic affair, unable to address itself to the day-to-day concerns faced by PSU graduate workers.

Finally, if administration desires to gather information on the graduate student climate, we are happy to share the results of our survey again, which showed broad dissatisfaction with many facets of current graduate worker life, which can be put succinctly as “overworked and underappreciated.” These pressing concerns have lead graduate workers across the nation to unionize, and we feel that attempts to address them can only succeed through a commitment to transparency and adequate representation.