April 29, 2018
To: Members of the Committee on Graduate Education
Many thanks for agreeing to participate in the important work of the Committee on Graduate Education, which will be chaired by David Nirenberg, Executive Vice Provost and Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor of Medieval History and Social Thought.
The issues before the Committee derive from the University’s role as a private research university dedicated to the training of scholars and teachers, to a strong liberal arts college, and to first-rate professional education. The national and international context of these activities is continually changing, and we need to be looking forward in order to set our own course toward the forms and possibilities of graduate education that will build on the strengths and aspirations we have for this University.
In the face of a range of challenges to academic institutions today, the University must take the initiative to evaluate its programs and the concepts that underlie them with the same critical attention that as scholars we each apply to our research. The Committee’s task is to survey graduate education at the University in the broadest sense: not only to assess the merits or limitations of a particular program or aspect of graduate education, but to examine its most basic assumptions, with the goal of enhancing the University’s ability to maintain the highest standards of quality for graduate education today and in the future.
You are charged with providing your assessment of the present state of graduate education at the University in light of the University’s commitment to excellence in research and teaching, and in the context of the changing landscape of higher education. I ask that your evaluation consider graduate education, research, and experience at the University holistically and as they interrelate with undergraduate and professional education. The structure of your written assessment may well reflect the recognition that faculty and students have overlapping but different roles in that enterprise.
You have wide latitude to determine the report’s structure as well as the specific issues to be addressed. I nevertheless expect you would assess graduate student funding, the financing of graduate education, and the requirements for and time to completion of graduate degree programs. Further, and related to funding, I anticipate you reviewing the availability and affordability of housing, health care and support for student parents. I also see as crucial a review of the role of teaching in graduate education, of graduate students in teaching, and of faculty in advising and mentoring. Important as well would be focus on the purposes and professions towards which graduate degree programs may be directed and the appropriateness of training for those purposes.
I look forward to learning what you find with respect to these and any other issues you deem important to include in your report.
Former University President Hanna Gray issued a similar charge to the Commission on Graduate Education in 1980, which resulted in the Baker Report of 1982. You may wish to include this report and other historical University documents as part of the data about the University’s practices that you will gather and analyze in your own assessment. And you may want to assemble and analyze information related to these issues at other research universities, as well as ours. Staff will be available to help with that.
A great deal has changed in the thirty-six years since the Baker Report, not only here at the University but also in the broader society. Among the many changes is an increased understanding of the importance of student as well as faculty perspectives on committees such as this. That awareness is reflected in your membership. In order to facilitate student participation, I ask that the Committee commence and complete its charge within one calendar year. To that end, the Committee should submit its written report to the Provost by January 11, 2019. The report will be made available to the University Community.
President Gray wrote in her 1980 invitation letter to members of the Commission on Graduate Education, I expect the work of this group to be unusually important in exploring and shaping the nature and directions of the University’s definition of purpose and of its academic objectives in the years ahead. The Commission’s activity … will give stimulus and substance to the most significant discussions and decisions that we need to undertake.
I hold the same expectation for the Committee today.