With support from my staff, I held a Graduate Student Town Hall on Sept. 26 to hear students’ thoughts on the future of graduate education at Berkeley as well as how the Graduate Division can better serve today’s students.
In an effort to increase transparency and accountability, I wanted to share some of the ideas, concerns and questions raised during this forum, as well as what steps we plan to take to gather further input, record data, and track progress on concerns shared by students, staff, and faculty.
Below is a high-level summary of the Town Hall’s discussion topics, and clarifying information, including, when appropriate, how our team is working to respond to the issues raised.
Paychecks, Funding, Fees, Stipends, and Reimbursements
Over the course of the hour-and-a-half meeting, there were many questions and concerns about graduate funding, travel reimbursements, fees, stipends, missing paychecks caused by the UC Path transition, as well as concerns about funding transparency and standards across departments and units.
It is unacceptable for graduate students not to be paid on time. Period. I have made that clear to the administrators, on campus and at UCOP, responsible for UC Path. Graduate Division staff has been working hard to address pay issues as we become aware of them. If you are having trouble, please let us know. We will do everything we can to help.
If you are in need of immediate support, please consider seeking a Short-Term Emergency Loan to support your basic needs until you receive your paycheck. Relevant to that, I also wanted to let you know that I am working with the graduate deans across the UC system to implement bi-weekly pay periods, so that a single payment disruption does not create as much hardship for students as missing a month’s paycheck.
Regarding funding, fees, travel reimbursements, and stipends, the Graduate Division hopes to function as a baseline knowledge source so that graduate students feel they have an understanding of, and access to, basic resources and funding opportunities, as well as the policies that inform and dictate how funding is disbursed or capped.
I also heard from several students who brought up the longstanding concern that UC Berkeley’s wages or fellowship awards are incompatible with the cost of Bay Area living. This is one of the most challenging concerns to address, but also one of great importance to myself, the Chancellor, and all faculty and staff that work with students. While there is no panacea for this issue, we are seeking ways to increase affordable student housing and address other basic needs for graduate students. I am also committed to raising more funds for graduate education in order to improve the amount of funding available overall.
A question was raised about fees for certain graduate student milestones, and about what happens to student-facing services during Filing Fee status and dismissal appeals. I have been discussing these issues with Graduate Division staff to become better informed, and relay any updates on these topics.
Representation and Campus Diversity
There was concern and excitement about expanding student, staff, and faculty representation on campus so that it better reflects our state, country and our world. To help address these issues of representation, the Chancellor has launched a Graduate Student Diversity Task Force co-chaired by myself, Professor Jon Wilkening (Academic Senate representative), and Luis Tenorio (Graduate Assembly representative). The Task Force will provide campus with a set of recommendations relevant to its three focus areas — outreach and recruitment, admissions, and student experience — in March 2020. The goal is to build on the important work already happening across campus to develop and implement a truly comprehensive, coordinated, campuswide strategy.
Input and Transparency
Because graduate education spans all 14 schools and colleges on campus, each with distinct needs, complexities, partnerships, and opportunities, I am embarking on a “listening tour” to meet with faculty in all 85 campus departments to hear perspectives and ideas about graduate education at Berkeley.
For those students that couldn’t attend the Town Hall, but would like additional forums to share their voice, I will be hosting virtual Q&As and office hours in the spring. I am also exploring other ways to hold graduate listening sessions, perhaps at the college level, in order to learn from graduate students and hear their perspectives.
We are in the process of setting up a website to track feedback, as well as progress on recurring issues and themes in the graduate community at Berkeley. Know that progress is often uneven — occasionally a concern can be resolved with a few keystrokes in a campus system, while other times, especially with regards to policies and procedures, change can require months or even years of advocacy. I look forward to working together to address the important issues facing graduate students at Cal.
Please stay tuned for future emails and updates!
Lisa García Bedolla
Vice Provost for Graduate Studies
and Dean of the Graduate Division