Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blog CLVI (156): The Johns Hopkins Proposal

Johns Hopkins University has recently announced a program designed to reduce its graduate student enrollment by a fourth. The university plans to use the money that is saved from providing teaching assistant stipends to these students to increase the amount they pay to the other three-fourths. William Egginton, vice dean for graduate education at Johns Hopkins, explained the proposal would help make the university’s programs "financially competitive with peers so that we are assured that graduate students choosing between Johns Hopkins and peer institutions can make those decisions based solely on the appropriate academic fit, without the complicating factor of lower stipends."

Rebecca Schuman, the education columnist for Slate.com, has endorsed this move: "I’m all for it, and I’d be delighted, not dismayed, if other universities emulated this strategy." She explains why: "A major research university has finally recognized, openly and publicly, that there are very few good jobs available for recent Ph.D.s in today’s barren and pitiful market. Rather than continue to populate senior professors’ seminars with a phalanx of minions who will then graduate into a jobless hellscape, Hopkins has elected to thin the herds in its own programs."

Tenure track faculty will be required to teach more undergraduate courses. This proposal has not gone over well with grad students at Johns Hopkins who are concerned that the university will increase its use of adjuncts rather using graduate teaching assistants, diluting the quality of a JHU degree. "Bless your hearts—you know what will worsen that problem?" Schuman asked. "When you and all your friends become adjuncts in five years."

I have to admit I am more with Schuman on this one than the grad students. It seems like the university has found a good way to address a serious problem. It reduces the supply, increases the viability of the grad students that are admitted to the school, and requires that faculty--the ones with the most experience and expertise, the ones that undergraduates and their parents (who are writing the checks to pay for that private school tuition) expect their children to be interacting with, actually deliver on their reputations. The faculty expecting light teaching loads might be disappointed, but they still get to work at a great school with a lot of perks. This solution seems quite reasonable and equitable. Like Schuman, I hope other institutions follow Johns Hopkins.

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