College ups grad. stipends

by Carl Burnett | 5/16/02 5:00am

Dartmouth will spend $2 million over the next five years to guarantee health insurance and to increase stipends for its nearly 300 graduate research and teaching assistants, the College announced last week.

The average base stipend for graduate students in the arts and sciences -- which does not include students at the Tuck School of Business or some Dartmouth Medical School and Thayer School of Engineering students, who pay tuition -- will increase from $16,440 to $18,084 per year, starting July 1.

"I'm not certain why they didn't do this sooner," said mathematics graduate student Barry Balof, a member of the Graduate Student Council. "It was somewhat unfair before because some got health insurance paid for and we didn't. It's definitely overdue."

Another mathematics grad student, Liz Stanhope, said health insurance "isn't huge in the vast scheme of things," but that the issue "begged for activism."

Until now, graduate students' benefits have varied widely between departments, with some guaranteed health care and others required to spend about $1,000 a year for insurance. Some saw the latest change, which will go into effect in September, as an attempt to level the playing field.

"This really builds some unity," said Jay Lennon, a molecular and evolutionary biology graduate student and GSC member.

Among Dartmouth's aims in increasing benefits is to increase the competitiveness and attractiveness of Dartmouth's graduate programs, Dean of Graduate Studies Carol Folt said. "We felt very strongly that we wanted to do everything we could to improve [graduate] student life, and health care is a really important component of everybody's life."

The latest changes come at a time when graduate students nationwide are finding more reasons to unionize against what they say are unfair working conditions: increased teaching demands, long hours in labs and a lack of any guaranteed salary.

At Dartmouth, graduate teaching assistants help instruction in laboratories and discussions, while research assistants participate in externally funded research.

None of the three graduate students contacted by The Dartmouth said they saw the latest changes as an attempt by administrators to appease students to prevent them from unionizing.

"I don't foresee [unionization] happening at Dartmouth as much. We're not as overworked, perhaps, as students at other schools -- certainly not in my department," Balof said.

Indeed, there has been little talk of unionizing among Dartmouth graduate students since the National Labor Relations Board's fall 2000 ruling that graduate students at private universities have the right to form unions and bargain collectively.

That stands in contrast to other Ivy League schools like Brown and Columbia, where larger numbers and a stronger sense of dissatisfaction with current conditions have prompted unionization's current popularity.