In a meeting held early on Monday afternoon, members of the University Senate Assembly discussed their concerns about the continuous enrollment policy facing Rackham students.
Addressing about 40 members of the assembly, Gina Poe, vice chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, facilitated the discussion on the policy expected to be implemented in the fall.
Under the provisions of the continuous enrollment policy — initially proposed by Rackham Dean Janet Weiss in February of last year— all University Ph.D. students will be required to pay tuition year-round from matriculation until they graduate.
Though the initial proposal included a high monetary penalty — half of the tuition for every semester the student is not enrolled — for returning after taking a leave of absence for more than a semester, Rackham Student Government and SACUA have each passed a resolution urging administrators to limit the re-enrollment fee to $100.
In a presentation to SACUA in February of 2009, Weiss said though the tuition fee will be reduced, the continuous enrollment policy will be revenue neutral for the University. The University Board of Regents must also approve the tuition reduction at its meeting next month in order to move forward.
During today’s meeting, School of Medicine Prof. Kate Barald said limiting the fee to $100 is essential to sustaining the continuous enrollment policy. If the fee were any higher, she said students who do not have their tuition covered by grants or sponsors may be financially unable or less willing to return to the University.
In a SACUA meeting held last month, University Provost Teresa Sullivan said this fee will be suspended as data about past student disenrollment is being gathered over the next year, adding that because it anticipates a surge in enrollment, Rackham will reduce the cost of tuition by about 10 percent with the approval of the Board of Regents. But even with this reduction in tuition costs, Poe said she feels the aid is not comparable to that given at other schools.
“It’s still nothing like the fee waivers that our peer institutions have that have continuous enrollment policies,” Poe said. “The waivers are really, to enrolled graduate students, trivial.”
Barald added that she was concerned that limitations imposed on leaves of absence under the policy of continuous enrollment could disproportionately affect the many women who take time off to start or support their family. University Regent Larry Deitch (D-Bingham Farms) expressed a similar concern at the University Board of Regents meeting in April of last year.
Yvonne Abdoo, an assistant professor at the School of Nursing, said she felt the continuous enrollment policy was unfair to students who don’t register in graduate school because they are waiting for approval from the Institutional Review Boards. This process, which can take up to a year, is required for anyone who wishes to work with human subjects for their dissertation.
As SACUA has not had access to data about why students choose not to enroll, LSA Prof. John Carson made a motion at Monday’s meeting to request more information from the Dean of Rackham.
“It’s a little bit of a fishing expedition but the idea is to find out how the departments and school (have) responded to the proposal, what their concerns were, as well as what they liked about them,” Carson said in an interview with The Michigan Daily after the meeting. “It’s to get as balanced a view of the proposal, as it stands and as it’s developed, as possible.”
SACUA Chair and statistics professor Ed Rothman said members of the leading faculty governance must also consider the fact that undergraduates at the University are given the right to take an extended leave of absence and that Ph.D. students would be denied the same option under the policy.
“We’re suggesting that graduate students will be treated in a different way from an undergraduate; that could be problematic,” Rothman said.
Rothman added that the Senate Assembly needs to form a committee to discuss and make educated decisions about the continuous enrollment policy in light of the past and present concerns raised at the meeting.
“We need a group of people who will participate in learning the facts, understand the tension on the faculty side, on the student side,” he said.
“The tension here is that we’ve got an issue, this re-enrollment fee that’s been waived this year,” he said. “Is that the answer to all these complex issues? And I don’t think we can resolve it just by talking about it in mass.”