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Graduate Education Update

November 15, 2021

Dear faculty, students, and staff,

I am writing to give you an update on what we are doing to better support our graduate students, who contribute so much to the research and teaching mission of Stony Brook University.  Since my arrival at Stony Brook last year, I have worked closely with the leadership team to understand how our graduate programs work and to determine ways to best support our graduate students from an educational and financial perspective.

In phase 1 of our review, in the spring 2021 semester, we implemented doctoral student fee scholarships of up to nearly $1800 for doctoral and terminal degree students. We also made available $1 million in Presidential Completion Awards. These awards have provided crucial stipend support and research funds for dozens of Stony Brook students in the final stages of completing their doctoral degree programs.

Our work continues. In response to a recommendation from the Strategic Budget Initiative, last summer we launched a new Graduate and Health Sciences Admissions office to provide enhanced support for prospective graduate students. This semester we are taking a series of other actions to ensure appropriate support for our graduate student employees and our graduate programs. Our goal is to improve the experience and outcomes of graduate students.

We have recently formed a working group to study the policies, practices and procedures that are designed to guide the next generation of scholars through doctoral education. Areas of initial focus will include recruitment, development of multi-year financial support packages, evaluating educational training experiences (including research and teaching assistantships), and time to degree challenges. My expectation is that this will be a time-limited review that will result in a variety of recommendations. This is just the next step among many to improve graduate education at Stony Brook.

In addition, the current Graduate Student Employees Union contract agreement for State Graduate Assistant (GA) and Teaching Assistant (TA) student employees includes two recent increases and a total compensation package that includes insurance, pension, paid leave, and location pay. In effect through June 2023, the contract includes a two percent increase retroactive to 10/1/2020 and an additional two percent increase for 2021, effective 9/30/2021 which was paid last month.

We are in the midst of reviewing budget requests from all areas throughout the institution. Along with these other requests we have also considered an additional increase in stipends for our GAs and TAs as an initial step. We will follow with a review of our Research Project Assistant stipends. Because our direct state operating aid has not increased, our budget remains tight. That said, the recruitment and retention of our graduate students is a top priority for the University, and we are profoundly grateful for the excellent work of our graduate students.

Accordingly, as in the past, we are increasing graduate student employee stipends well above the contractual requirement. We will be adding to those stipends retroactive to October 1, 2021, in the following way. All State GAs and TAs, proportionate to their appointment, with an academic year obligation making less than $22,500 or with an annual obligation making less than $27,857 will be brought up to that level. All other GAs and TAs will receive an additional $500 for an academic year obligation or $619 for an annual obligation proportionate to their appointment. Every graduate student employee will receive some measure of a stipend increase, proportionate to their appointment. The approximate total cost for funding this additional raise for these part-time appointments is $1.3M. 

Our commitment to finding additional ways to bolster financial support for our graduate students reflects their essential role in our common goal of enhancing Stony Brook’s standing among America’s leading research institutions and advancing the University’s research mission to new levels of social and cultural impact in the coming decade.

Thank you and please look for future updates on this important topic.

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Maurie McInnis