Graduate student increase will not harm undergraduates, professors insist

President Assanis Interview
Xander Opiyo/THE REVIEW
President Assanis’s focus on increasing graduate enrollment is likely to benefit undergraduates, according to professors.

BY
Managing News Editor

During his inaugural address last fall, President Assanis voiced intentions to double the university’s graduate student population over 10 years, with hopes of strengthening the university’s graduate programs and ambiguously referring to the prospect of a “graduate city.”

In a Faculty Senate meeting last week, Assanis revised the original plan, now seeking to increase doctoral students by 1,000 and master’s level students by 2,000, resulting in the eventual enrollment of 7,000 graduate students overall in 10 years. This will constitute a 75 percent increase, as the university currently has nearly 4,000 graduate students, rather than the previously suggested 100 percent increase.

In an email statement from Senior Vice Provost of Graduate and Professional Education Ann Ardis, she stated that President Assanis also has intentions to add 250 new faculty — an approximate 20 percent increase. She also stated that undergraduate tuition does not support graduate students, with graduate revenue deriving primarily from endowments, or gifts to the university, and federal grants.

The university currently offers 67 doctoral graduate programs and 143 master’s degree programs, spanning a variety of disciplines in nearly every department. However, some departments, such as the philosophy department, do not house any graduate programs.

Chemistry Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Donald Watson said that, in his experience, the presence of graduate students works to benefit undergraduates, both directly and indirectly. Strong graduate research programs attract more exceptional faculty and give undergraduates exposure to advanced research projects, he said. According to Watson, without these experiences, undergraduates would be unqualified for graduate school consideration.

Watson also said that graduate students can play a valuable supplementary role as teaching assistants, offering new perspectives that assist undergraduate learning and, at times, having dealt with the material more recently than the professor. They can also alleviate large class teaching responsibilities as teaching assistants, being available to undergraduates at a fraction of the cost of new faculty. But Watson cautioned that this role ought to be strictly supplementary.

“I don’t favor or know that anybody favors having graduate students be the instructors,” Watson said. “But as teaching assistants, I think it’s really a valuable thing.”

Unlike most departments, which began as undergraduate-exclusive and later implemented graduate programs, the public policy school began with graduate programs and has more recently incorporated undergraduate degrees. According to Public Policy Professor and Director of the M.A. in Urban Affairs & Public Policy Danilo Yanich, who teaches at both the graduate and undergraduate level, witnessing this integration has provided an example of undergraduates benefiting from graduate programs.

“Done correctly, it is not an either or proposition,” Yanich said. “Undergraduates benefit greatly from the school’s experience as a graduate school. I would hope that in other expanding graduate programs, that kind of cross-fertilization occurs. I don’t see it as all as threatening undergraduates. The university is an undergraduate school, and that’s where its emphasis will always be.”

Yanich said that, in the public policy school, many projects require the collaboration of both graduates and undergraduates, and the only graduate teaching of undergraduates is from upper-level P.h.D. students with past teaching assistant experience, who are often received favorably in student evaluations.

In any event, the plans indicate the university’s trajectory under the Assanis administration, which is set for expansion and the bolstering of science and engineering programs, alongside increased private sector collaboration. A proportionate increase in undergraduates would result in a population of over 30,000 total students, sure to alter the status of the mid-sized university.

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