UB may soon see a decrease in the number of graduate students. UB’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) directed 23 out of its 29 doctoral programs to stop the recruitment of funded PhD students. The only departments within CAS that can continue to recruit funded PhD students in Fall 2020 are Biology, Communicative Disorders and Science, Communications, Chemistry, Geology, and Psychology. This information was relayed via email to the departments of CAS on Thursday, September 19th by David Johnson, the Associate Dean for Graduate Education and a professor in the Department of Comparative Literature.
The cut in PhD recruitment, ironically, is the result of UB’s PhD Excellence Initiative to raise the floor for graduate student stipends to $20,000. Initially, this was supposed to “support the initiative and enhance efforts to recruit excellent PhD students,” according to a press release on grad.buffalo.edu from August 23, 2019. Yet, as Philip Glick, a professor in the Department of Surgery, states, “If you’re going to increase people’s wages, but not increase the amount of money allocated to them, you have to hire less people.” Indeed, this is an issue of limited funding.
The number of new PhD students is projected to decrease from 120 to around 60, potentially harming the reputation of UB. Yet, it should be noted that this halt in stipends for new PhD students will only be in effect for one year, subject to future reconsideration.
Members of the Living Stipend Movement, a coalition of graduate students who want “a living and competitive stipend for all graduate student workers”, are reportedly unhappy. Mike Montoro—the Student Representative for UB Council, a PhD student and Presidential Fellow in mathematics, a member of the Living Stipend Movement and teaching assistant for the Gifted Math Program—stated, “This is kind of a massive blow to the entire educational apparatus of the College of Arts and Sciences”. He lamented that UB’s administration is making the PhD programs “figure it out for themselves”. Furthermore, even the bridge funding for UB’s $20,000 PhD stipends will only last for three years; at the rate of 100% this year, 100% next year, and 50% the third year. Overall, there is much to be sorted out in this situation, and one can only hope that UB will take actions to encourage the growth of its PhD programs. As Montoro declares, “Unfunded Ph.D. students is not how a No. 1 research university runs, not how it ever ran, not how it will run ever in the future.”