The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
Six days before the Graduate Employees’ Organization began their strike against the University of Michigan, the Rackham Graduate School introduced a new 12-month funding model for doctoral students. Colloquially known as the Rackham Plan, the model would offer all doctoral students admitted for the 2023-24 academic year and all years going forward a year-round stipend as a part of their funding packages.
In an email to The Michigan Daily, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said the plan is a shift away from previous models of funding. This new plan would offer all doctoral students $36,084 per year for 12 months of work, assuming they are within their funding window. In a fully funded doctoral program, the funding window is the amount of years a student receives full tuition waivers and a cost-of-living stipend from the university they are attending.
“The university, through Rackham Graduate School, is ensuring year-round funding for all eligible Ph.D. students on the Ann Arbor campus as part of their standard admission offer,” Broekhuizen wrote. “In the past, not all Ph.D. students received spring/summer funding. Now, every Ph.D. student who is within their funding window (usually 5-7 years) will receive a spring/summer stipend at a level equivalent to the stipend offered in fall or winter terms. This year, that amount is $12,028 per term, or $36,084 for 12 months of funding.”
Broekhuizen said this funding plan has begun to take effect for the 2023 spring and summer terms for current doctoral students who have remained in academic standing with the University.
“The funding extension has taken effect for the current spring/summer term,” Broekhuizen said. “All eligible Ph.D. students who were guaranteed academic year 2022-23 fall and winter term funding as part of their offers of admission and are in good academic standing are slated to receive full 2023 spring/summer stipend support.”
Rackham student Amir Fleischmann, GEO contract committee chair, said he believes the University did not effectively implement this plan, harming graduate students who thought they would receive funding, but did not.
“The Rackham Plan was rolled out very hastily,” Fleischmann said. “In (a) failed attempt to head off our strike many departments explicitly promised funds to graduate students who would not normally be eligible. These students adjusted their summer plans with the expectation of these funds — in some cases turning down internships and jobs that would have been necessary to support themselves through the summer. Over the past few weeks, these departments have rescinded their summer funding commitments, leaving these students in the lurch.”
Rackham student Rebecca Smith, a member of GEO, helps organize an informal GEO working group on summer funding. In an interview with The Daily, Smith said many students who were promised funding by LSA had it rescinded, leaving them in financially uncertain situations for the summer.
“(Some) students were told four or six weeks ago that they were going to be getting Rackham summer funding and did not make any other plans for summer employment,” Smith said. “(These students) went into the summer thinking they had $12,000 to live on, and then only two weeks ago, LSA started pulling those same funding packages from students. So it’s been incredibly chaotic. It’s left students in situations of really extreme precarity.”
Smith said she believes this funding uncertainty is partially a result of confusion among directors of graduate studies — the organizers and administrators of graduate programs — about what students are eligible for the 12-month funding plan.
“My understanding is that the department’s individual directors of graduate studies, which are the people that run our individual Ph.D. programs, were asked how many people are eligible for this in your cohort, and then they gave a recommended number,” Smith said. “Some of the directors went out on a limb for students and wanted to get as many people included as possible, and then at some point, Rackham realized what was going on and started trying to rein it in.”
Smith added that complications due to leaves of absence and fellowships can make it appear a student is in a later year of study than they actually are, which can also affect funding opportunities.
Smith said she hopes to see the 12-month funding plan included in GEO’s new contract with the University to ensure doctoral students earn a stable living wage .
“The thing that we want is for the money to be in the contract so that we can ensure that everyone has this money,” Smith said. “That is a critical component of the living wage. It also makes sure that it won’t be rolled out or rolled back or disappear next year.”
Broekhuizen said the University will not include a 12-month funding plan in the contract because it only covers graduate students employed by the University.
“The collective bargaining agreement with GEO covers only graduate student instructor and graduate student staff assistant appointments, the components of funding that involve employment,” Broekhuizen wrote. “This funding is offered to Ph.D. students who are within their original funding package–whether or not they are working as a GSI or a GSSA. Some Ph.D. students with guaranteed funding never hold a GSI or GSSA appointment and are not covered by the collective bargaining agreement during any time in their program.”
Fleischmann said he believes the confusion surrounding the rollout of the Rackham Plan demonstrates another shortcoming in the University’s handling of current contract negotiations and its treatment of graduate students.
“This chaos is a testament to the incompetence of the (University’s) administration — something grad workers have been experiencing all year,” Flesichmann said.
Summer News Editor Miles Anderson can be reached at email@example.com.