Graduate students in the classics department will meet with faculty members to raise concerns over the lack of University support in their sixth year of study, after raising the issue with President Tilghman at a meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community Monday.
Because sixth-year graduate students are not recognized as officially enrolled, they are ineligible for the benefits guaranteed to students in their first five years, including housing, health insurance and access to the Assistant in Instruction budget that employs them to work as preceptors.
Because of the unique demands of the classics program, however, graduate students in that department have traditionally required six years to finish their degrees.
"There is a long gauntlet of course requirements," in addition to language examinations in Greek and Latin and general examinations in history, literature and program-specific topics, said fifth-year classics student Chris Noble GS.
Noble said the department has been "supportive," adding, "They are doing their best to help us out."
Andrew Ford, director of graduate studies for the department, said he and department chair Dennis Feeney are investigating other ways to secure funding for the students or find them alternative employment, possibly in the Princeton Writing Program.
"The story's not over," Ford said. "I sympathize with them."
Two years ago, the classics department streamlined the old system of requirements and examinations to allow students to finish in five years instead of six. But the changes have not benefited those who entered the department prior to 2003.
The "post-enrollment" status of sixth-year graduate students raises particular concerns for non-U.S. citizens.
"Without student status, international students will face very serious difficulties," said Nick Renyearson GS, who is a sixth-year student in the classics department. "Their visa status depends on being students."
Furthermore, Renyearson said, post-enrolled students must also begin repaying loans accumulated during their undergraduate years.
"I am currently a lecturer, and I have started making my monthly payments," he said. "This is definitely an additional hardship for some of us who have considerable debt from undergrad."
In the past, "post-enrollment" classics students have often relied on paid teaching positions in the department to alleviate the costs of continuing their education.
But this system of support was always informal and the department has never been able to hire every sixth-year student who wanted a job, Ford said.
"[Students] sort of felt that it was a regular program and it isn't," he said. "It's just been our discretionary using of the surplus budget."
Due to this year's budget shortfall — the result of additional faculty hires and fewer professors opting to take leaves of absence — the department will not hire any sixth-year graduate students next year.
"We have two post-enrolled students who are in halftime positions this year," Ford said. "But there are other students, their cohorts, who are doing other things."
Since "post-enrollment" students are not permitted to work as preceptors, the anticipated absence of teaching jobs has caused graduate students to express concern about their lack of financial support from the University.
"If you aren't faculty and you aren't a student, there's no source for money for you," Renyearson said. "In order to teach precepts, sixth-year students would, as far as I know, need one of these two kinds of status."
In most Canadian universities (as far as I'm aware), grad students are eligible to apply for and teach assorted courses (usually no more than three in a year) which, once upon a time, could be enough to 'get by' (you can't do more than three or you will be considered 'full time', and then they have to pay benefits and all that). Also, once upon a time, a grad student could do this sort of thing and then go on 'unemployment' over the summer -- of course, when I was doing my Ph. D. (I'm currently listed as 'inactive'), the government changed the rules how teaching hours were calculated, so essentially grad students lost that bit of funding too. And, of course, every course you do teach is time taken away from doing what should be your primary focus -- your dissertation.
I've often thought there is a need for another rank of university professor -- say, something like 'doctoral professor' which would be available for grad students past their fifth or sixth year (e.g.) to teach a reasonable (both in terms of finances and time) course load (perhaps even lead seminars in the subject of their dissertation) while still maintaining an affiliation with their home institution where they could complete their degree. Of course, the funding for such an enterprise would never exist ...
If nothing else, it would take away those thoughts as you hit your seventh year that you probably would have been a doctor by now if you had gone to medical school ...