Student government forms committee to better understand graduate stipends

The committee aims to create a comprehensive report on graduate stipends by December.

Harrison Frisk, a fifth-year graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, shows the power of the lasers in his ultrafast laser spectroscopy table. The lasers come from a single unit and are bounced off crystals, some of which are grown in the lab, before they reach a special chamber that holds a two-dimensional crystal which allows Frisk to study the physics of the electrons in the light. 

Tony Saunders

Harrison Frisk, a fifth-year graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, shows the power of the lasers in his ultrafast laser spectroscopy table. The lasers come from a single unit and are bounced off crystals, some of which are grown in the lab, before they reach a special chamber that holds a two-dimensional crystal which allows Frisk to study the physics of the electrons in the light. 

Michelle Griffith

University of Minnesota graduate school governance has taken the first steps to address what they see as a disparity among graduate school stipends.

The University of Minnesota Council of Graduate Students formed a committee at a Sept. 25 meeting to gather data on how much graduate students receive in stipend funding due to concerns of discrepancies in the process. 

The University gives salaries, or stipends, to students who are graduate assistants, many of whom are teaching and research assistants. Depending on the number of hours worked and other criteria, the student also receives a tuition benefit and full medical and dental insurance through Boynton Health Service.

Harrison Frisk, vice president of COGS, claims that graduate students in the chemical engineering department can make almost double what students in the language arts department are making. The University doesn’t currently track how stipends are distributed among graduate students, so a goal of the committee is to procure data to present to administration if needed.  

“What we want to do with this [committee] is really just inform how we’re thinking about this, Frisk said. “COGS can advocate for students … but without [data] we’re kind of working in the dark.” 

However, collecting stipend distribution data is not easy to collect because there is no central entity that controls the allocation of stipends, Frisk said. Almost every degree program receives its stipend funding differently and some funding comes from the degree program or that program’s college, he said. 

“Graduate student stipends, and program budgets are determined at the local – college or program – level,” Graduate School Chief of Staff Etty DeVeaux said in an email. “The Graduate School has no role in setting graduate student stipends, or program budgets.”

The nine-member committee created by COGS aims to create a comprehensive report about graduate stipends by December, Frisk said. 

“[The process] is way more complicated than I ever thought it could possibly be, and we’ve got to get a handle on this,” Frisk said. 

First year German Studies graduate student Anthony Kahane knows that when he begins teaching German classes next year, he will receive less pay than a majority of his graduate student counterparts. 

Kahane said it is problematic that graduate students receive vastly different salaries since they do the same amount of work and put in the same hours. 

“The absence of centralization in terms of determining graduate stipends seems almost deliberate,” Kahane said. “It seems almost like a roadblock in that you’re not supposed to be able to ask questions about this … it is problematic.” 

One argument for paying some students higher wages is that the University has to pay wages competitive with the job market. For example, a computer engineering student could make a good wage at their first job, so the University offers higher wages than other programs to give students an incentive to work under its employ, Kahane said. 

The stipend committee wants to use the data to create scatter plots and histograms of graduate student stipends. This information will give COGS stronger tools to advocate for better student stipends.

“I’m really super excited about this,” Frisk said. “I think this will be very good for COGS and very important information for grad students.”