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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

University to cut Ph.D. enrollment

Published: January 16, 2009
Section: Front Page

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will reduce first year doctoral student enrollment by approximately half for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 as a cost saving measure, Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe said. The university faces a predicted budget shortfall of $5.8 million for FY 2010. Predictions for FY 2011 have not been announced.

Departments were offered the option of not admitting students one year and admitting a regular number during the other, Jaffe explained. Only the Mathematics department chose this option. This year, the university enrolled approximately 80 doctoral students.

“PhD students are paid a stipend which is typically $20,000 a year,” Jaffe explained. The reduction in PhD students will save the university $800,000 in FY2010, Jaffe said.

“It’s an issue of how much money can be saved how quickly,” Jaffe remarked. “In the long run,” he added, closing weaker doctoral programs is “the best way to reduce the cost of the graduate school.”

However, “that can’t be done quickly,” Jaffe commented. “It just seemed like the fairest way was an across the board reduction.”

According to Jaffe, reducing the number of doctoral students in FY2010 and FY2011 “gives us time that by FY2012 we’ll have implemented measures [to create a] sustainable measure for the future.”

Jaffe predicted that a reduction in doctoral students would have a “direct” and “potential indirect” effect on graduate and undergraduate programs. First, Jaffe said, there will be fewer doctoral candidates to serve as teaching fellows and “labs will have fewer people to work on their grants.”

“I expect that most of the changes for the next two years will be pretty invisible to the students. We will have a few less teaching fellows for ‘lab’ sections, but not so few, I hope, that classes will be impacted much,” Prof. Eric Chasalow (MUS), graduate program chair of composition, explained in an e-mail message.

Jaffe said that this plan would reduces the savings but not eliminate them, as the university would have to hire people to fill the positions left by the Ph.D. students.

Jaffe also said that a cut in Ph.D. candidates would make the graduate program more competitive and selective.

“For students hoping to come into our Ph.D. [program],” Chasalow wrote, “the competition is already very fierce…and this will make the competition even tougher.”

“Ordinarily,” Prof. Paul DiZio (PSYCH), graduate advising head in Psychology, explained, his department enrolls four to five new doctoral students each year. “In terms of sheer numbers, it’s not huge. If it turns out to be one year, the impact is relatively low,” he said. He added that the Psychology department will enroll more master’s students, who pay tuition, in the upcoming year.

Because the “educational goals of master’s students are quite similar [to those of doctoral students], it won’t change the character of the graduate students,” DiZio said.

Even so, “it will be harder to keep research going,” DiZio continued. “Graduate students are intellectual lifeblood.” Thus, “we certainly want to support our younger faculty members who really need people for their labs,” he commented.

In addition to limiting the number of teaching fellows available for undergraduate courses, Director of Graduate Studies for the Politics department Prof. Daniel Kryder (POL) also believed the reduction in graduate students could negatively impact research.

“A smaller graduate student population would also over time reduce some faculty members’ research output,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “This might also affect undergraduate education by reducing the amount and quality of ‘cutting edge’ research brought into the classroom.”

“In the short run,” DiZio said, “we can take it.”