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Brown Writing Center Appeal For Reconsideration of 20-Hour Work Limit Policy

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Graduate Writing Center Associates Brown University Writing Center 69 Brown Street, Rm 213 Providence, RI 02912 June 8, 2012 Peter Weber, Dean of the Graduate School Brown University Graduate School 47 George Street, Box 1867 Providence, RI 02912 Dear Dean Weber et al: We, a coalition of working PhD students and their allies, object to the new policy of enforcing as “required” the heretofore “recommended” limit on PhD working hours, as this policy is currently stated in the graduate student handbook. We ask that the following concerns be taken into consideration in formulating new policy around PhD student labor. 1) For many full-time PhD students, working is a help to their effectiveness in completing coursework and dissertations, not a hindrance. Working helps to off-set the financial costs of fieldwork, archival visits, retrieval of images and literary materials, and associated costs like car insurance and internet service, which are necessities of completing our courses of study. Particularly for students in fields for which outside funding or grants are difficult to come by, part-time, on-campus jobs help to make the often expensive work of research possible. Moreover, outside work (when done in moderation) provides, for many students, a productive means of re-energizing after long and isolating research hours. 2) 20 hours per semester is far too low a limit. The recommendation in the handbook, frequently waived by academic departments, is waived in part because it is too low, amounting to only a little over an hour per week. Because many on-campus jobs constitute minimal time commitments—fewer than ten hours per week—they don’t significantly detract from our capacity to put in the full-time hours that we also work as T.A.s, R.A.s, students, readers, and dissertators. 3) Working provides alternate avenues to professionalization in a tight academic economy. While many of us hope for a tenure-track job at a research institution someday, the truth of the matter (particularly in the humanities) is that these jobs are extraordinarily difficult to get immediately out of grad school. Thus, most of us will have to work our way into those research institution jobs, starting at schools that are very different in institutional nature than Brown or positions that are not in our immediate area of research. These places and positions care tremendously about teaching and they care about service. The work that we do outside our dissertation is the very thing that shows these employers that we can indeed add to their institution, no matter how different from Brown. These experiences set graduate students apart from other candidates: they demonstrate an ability to multi-task and show a willingness to contribute to the university as a whole. Put simply, these experiences show that we are able to be more than a graduate student, that we are professionals. If we are denied an avenue to such work, we may be disqualified for jobs that will provide us with a positive incentive to finish our work at Brown. 4) Ph.D. Students have a variety of different professional goals, some of which require demonstrated work outside of the dissertation. The blanket nature of an enforced hours-capping policy does not take into account that many of us have professional goals that a single-minded focus on research simply will not help us achieve. The variety of on-campus positions in which doctoral students currently serve reflect those professional goals. In order to help students achieve these professional goals and gain employment after Brown, we need to have the freedom to diversify our CV during graduate school. 5) There are particular professional benefits, both in terms of teaching and research development, to working at the writing center in particular. Work at the writing center helps graduate students to professionalize as teachers and mentors and enables independent research. It gives graduate students the opportunity to learn the best practices for teaching writing and for working with students on an individual basis. The center also allows graduate students to learn what good writing looks like, teaches them the steps that one must take to produce that writing, and gives them pragmatic ways of taking those steps. Moreover, the center is a community of writers, people who can come together and share the often arduous and intimidating task of production. It helps us realize that our writing "issues" are not ours alone, but issues that all good writers have to encounter on the way to a better project. Such a community is crucial for new researchers who may feel isolated in their work and uncertain about how best to manage their research and writing time. We thereby propose that the graduate school institute a new policy actively supporting any and all graduate student work that meets the following conditions: 1) is tailored to individual professional priorities 2)is discussed with and formally detailed and approved in writing by a PhD student’s academic advisor, DGS, or other departmental authority and 3) is done by students in good academic standing.

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