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DOCUMENTS OF THE GENERAL FACULTY

  FINAL REPORT OF THE AD HOC JOINT COMMITTEE OF THE GRADUATE ASSEMBLY AND FACULTY COUNCIL ON GRADUATE STUDENT FELLOWSHIPS

On February 20, 2012, the Faculty Council approved the Resolution Authorizing Formation of the Ad Hoc Joint Committee of the Graduate Assembly and Faculty Council on Graduate Student Fellowships (D 9501-9503). The resolution resulted from a change in the way graduate student funding awards were to be made. The primary change was that a significant proportion of the funding was moved from being administrated by the Graduate School to the individual colleges/schools. The ad hoc committee was charged with “reviewing the results of the changes in policy and procedures now being enacted; assessing the impact and effectiveness of the recently decentralized system for awarding Graduate School Fellowships; and reporting its findings to the two faculty assemblies, the Provost, and the Dean of Graduate Studies.”

On behalf of the Ad Hoc Joint Committee of the Graduate Assembly and Faculty Council on Graduate Student Fellowships and as a member of the Faculty Council Executive Committee, Professor Alan Friedman (English) has submitted the following executive summary and full final report. The Secretary has classified this proposal as general legislation. The report will be presented to the Graduate Assembly on November 7, and to the Faculty Council on November 19, 2012. The Faculty Council will act on the report on December 10, 2012.


Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
Faculty Council and General Faculty


Posted on the Faculty Council website on November 7, 2012.

FINAL REPORT OF THE AD HOC JOINT COMMITTEE OF THE GRADUATE ASSEMBLY AND FACULTY COUNCIL ON GRADUATE STUDENT FELLOWSHIPS

Executive Summary
November 2012

The Ad Hoc Joint Committee of the Graduate Assembly and Faculty Council on Graduate Student Fellowships was established in response to concerns about the impact of decentralizing award decisions for $7.6 million (of a total of $13 million) in graduate student fellowships to the academic deans in November 2011. The Committee was charged with (a) reviewing the results of the changes in policy and procedures enacted during the 2011-12 academic year; (b) assessing the impact and effectiveness of the decentralized system; and (c) reporting its findings to the two faculty assemblies, the Provost, and the Dean of Graduate Studies.

The Committee conducted the following activities:
  • Co-chairs Shernaz García and Alan Friedman attended the debriefing meeting for Graduate Coordinators conducted by Associate Graduate Dean Marvin Hackert, on June 28, 2012.
  • In collaboration with the Committee, Associate Dean Hackert conducted a survey of Graduate Advisers and Graduate Coordinators.  This online survey solicited information about the implementation of the decentralized decision-making process at the program level.  Graduate Advisers and Coordinators were invited to share their perceptions about:  (a) the effectiveness of communication and instructions from their college or school and the graduate school; (b) the level of faculty involvement in the decision-making process; (c) the impact of the change on their program, and the sizes and types of awards made; and (d) their preferences regarding procedures for the following year.  Twenty-nine of 109 graduate advisors responded (26.6%), representing 10 of 14 colleges/schools.  Fifty of 109 Graduate Coordinators responded (45.9%), representing 12 of 14 colleges/schools.
  • Associate Graduate Dean Hackert reported to the Committee the preliminary results of the graduate awards program by college and type of award.
  • On September 12, at the Graduate Assembly’s first meeting of 2012-13, co-chairs García and Friedman presented a report of the Committee’s activities and preliminary findings.
  • A preliminary report of the Committee’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations was shared with Provost Steve Leslie, and Graduate Dean Judith Langlois in late September.
Findings and Conclusions
  1. The decentralization process gave colleges/schools flexibility in two areas:  (a) they could allocate funds among recruiting, continuing and diversity awards to meet their local priorities as they saw fit; and (b) they could determine the number of levels as well as the amounts associated with various types of awards.  The ratio of funds distributed between Recruitment and Continuing Fellowships ranged from approximately 45:55 to 75:25; two colleges/schools allocated 100% of their funds to one program.  There was much greater variability across colleges/schools with respect to the number of levels and the amounts associated with recruiting fellowships.  Only one or two award levels were used in colleges/schools with fewer fellowships (e.g., Geosciences, Information), but the amounts tended to vary greatly in colleges with a greater number of fellowships (e.g., Communication, Liberal Arts).
  2. Confusion and communication breakdowns were experienced widely across campus, in part due to the late announcement of the change to the process, the lack of instructions and guidelines, the resulting pressure to implement the program while creating new administrative procedures, inadequate opportunity to prepare all parties involved in implementing the new program, and, to some extent, the increased flexibility available to colleges.  The Committee finds it difficult if not impossible, to differentiate inherent disadvantages of the decentralized process from procedural difficulties that were experienced because it was the first year of implementation. 
  3. The shift to a decentralized decision process eliminated the advantages of making more offers than allocated funds allowed; in prior years the Office of Graduate Studies (OGS) used historical acceptance rates (around 62%) to project the number of awards that could safely be offered (vs. funded).  This system of “overbooking” enabled programs to make more offers early in the recruitment cycle, with the understanding that declined offers would revert back to OGS in order for it to avoid going over budget. Although programs were enthusiastic about the ability to keep and re-allocate funds, the effectiveness of this new approach needs to be evaluated in order to ensure the intent and integrity of the student awards program.
  4. Some units experienced some of the advantages that were the rationale for this change to a decentralized decision process. Specifically, these units were positive about: (a) the ability to allocate funding to address college priorities, (b) selection of students at the local level, and (c) flexibility on stipends, tuition and insurance options, and deadlines.
  5. There was mixed support for the flexibility provided by the decentralized process. Flexibility at the local level appears to have led to a number of unintended outcomes, including:
    1. Wide variation in the amounts of awards across programs and colleges/schools; such differentials were not only confusing to implement, but also risks minimizing the prestige of receiving a university fellowship.
    2. A reduction in funds and/or number of awards allocated to some programs.  For instance, some smaller programs received a reduced allocation if their 3-year acceptance rate was lower than usual; other programs may have lost awards as a result of shifting priorities (e.g., diversity fellowship funds redirected to other types of awards).
    3. A reported reduction in student diversity, in part due to the reduction or elimination of Diversity Mentoring Fellowships in some units.
    4. Uneven involvement of faculty in the decision-making process, as reflected in respondents’ comments and reports that some decisions were made solely by the Chair, Graduate Adviser, or Dean without faculty input.
    5. An administrative burden on the OGS as well as Advisers and Coordinators as a result of more flexible deadlines and re-allocation of awards.
  6. Most programs favored being able to keep their allocations when a candidate declines a recruitment fellowship offer.  These funds can be used to make additional offers or are carried forward to the next year.
  7. A decentralized decision-making system may be less effective at achieving university-wide priorities and goals because it places decision-making authority at the local level, where these priorities may not be shared, or may be superseded by others.  There is merit in retaining authority or control in the Graduate School over these types of awards.  The impact of this year’s process on the Diversity Mentoring Program is a case in point.
Recommendations
The committee recommends that a modified version of this year’s decentralized decision-making process be implemented for one more year, with the following modifications:
  1. OGS should establish a set of parameters and operating procedures for all colleges, which provides guidelines regarding the number of packages that may be designed, deadlines for selection decisions and notice of awards, and other procedures to enhance timeliness and minimize the burden on all those involved in implementing the awards program.  For example, each college could be required to limit the number of recruitment fellowship award options and levels of funding; e.g., three or four levels with an A+ offer to the rare, outstanding candidate; a limited number of A offers (full fellowships); and a small number of supplemental awards that may be combined with student employment or other offers.  These decisions should be made early in the selection cycle and reported to the OGS prior to implementation.  Similarly, deadlines should be established and enforced, even while allowing for awards to be made at a later date (e.g., tiered deadlines for offers made in spring and summer).
  2. A similar structure of funding levels should be considered for the continuing fellowship program so that the amount of these awards is sufficient to maintain the prestige that has been associated with receiving this historically competitive, University-wide fellowship.
  3. In light of the concerns expressed about reductions in the number of Diversity Fellowships and in the diversity of the entering fellowship cohorts, OGS should further examine the impact of the decentralized process on the ability of the university to recruit and maintain a diverse student body.  Because the specific aspects of diversity that are prioritized are likely to vary by discipline (e.g., some disciplines are male- or female-dominated; others may need to recruit a more ethnically diverse population), the principle of diversity as an institutional value requires these data to be centrally maintained and monitored, with sensitivity to the specific situation of each program and discipline.
  4. It may be necessary to develop a two-tiered system to address student diversity by continuing to allocate Diversity Fellowship awards to the colleges and creating additional awards that are available through the OGS. 
  5. Attention must be given to the detrimental impact of the decentralized process on the prestige of receiving a University Fellowship (UT brand).  Prestige is likely to be reduced when award sizes are small and/or because the awards are associated with colleges/departments rather than OGS.
  6. To ensure the most effective and appropriate use of funds, OGS should monitor how funds are used when recruitment fellowship offers are declined. The allocation should not, for instance, be used to increase the size of existing offers, to create additional supplemental awards, or to make offers to candidates who do not meet the pre-determined selection criteria. When the amount of an award is small, allowing programs or departments to carry these funds over may reduce the college’s overall ability to create larger, more attractive awards. In such instances, it may be more productive to have the funds revert back to the college/school.
  7. Colleges and schools should make clear how they are involving appropriate departmental or unit faculty in awarding fellowships and scholarships.1

Committee Members:
  1. Alan Friedman, Committee co-chair (FC Chair, 2011-12), English/Liberal Arts
  2. Shernaz García, Committee co-chair (GA Chair, 2011-12), Special Education
  3. John Morán González, Center for Mexican American Studies, English/Liberal Arts
  4. Omi Jones, Chair, GSC Steering Committee; African & African Diaspora Studies/Liberal Arts
  5. David Hoffman (GA), Graduate Adviser, Biochemistry/Natural Sciences
  6. Diane Schallert (GA), Graduate Adviser, Educational Psychology
  7. Dean Neikirk (FC), Graduate Adviser, Electrical & Computer Engineering
  8. Stan Roux (FC), Molecular, Cell, Developmental Biology/Natural Sciences
  9. Michael Redding (Graduate Student Assembly), Information Studies
  10. Cassandra Telenko (Graduate Student Assembly), Mechanical Engineering
  11. Marvin Hackert, Associate Dean, Graduate Studies (ex officio)

1 Amendment approved by the Faculty Council on November 19, 2012.

Please view the full report.