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An end to Penn's GSAS first years' "month of poverty"

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We, Penn SAS graduate students, want to express our support for the efforts of various SAS graduate chairs as conveyed in the following letter to Ralph Rosen, Interim Associate Dean for Graduate Studies:

Dear Ralph,

We the undersigned, Chairs of various Graduate Groups at Penn, would like to bring to your attention an issue that comes up again and again in conversations with both current and newly admitted graduate students: the timing of stipend checks at the beginning of the academic year. This issue is gaining significance as we admit increasingly diverse cohorts of students with different economic situations and backgrounds, and we feel strongly that the time has come to tackle it head-on.

The problem is simple: fall term begins in late August, which means students often have to rent apartments starting August 1st. A new rental often requires the up-front payment of the first month’s rent, the last month’s rent, and sometimes a security deposit as well. All this can add up to several thousand dollars. The first stipend check from GSAS, however, typically doesn’t arrive until mid-September, meaning that students have to come up with several thousand dollars plus a September rent check before receiving a dime from Penn.

This situation frequently creates significant economic difficulties for incoming students and is a critical problem for international students and students of limited economic means. Prospective students (admitted to a Penn PhD program but still undecided) have raised concerns on this front. We’re not sure whether they’ve heard about the problem from current Penn grad students, or are aware of the problem more generally (regardless of school and location). Whatever the case, given that Penn’s fall semester is going to continue starting in August, how can we expect students who rely on Penn funding to get by with zero financial support until mid-September?

We want to emphasize that this is not a plea for more money; it’s a plea that funds be disbursed in time to meet the demands imposed by Penn’s academic calendar. As Penn’s Vice Provost for Education, Beth Winkelstein, recently made clear, this is a policy that GSAS can determine on its own, and does not require a university-wide change of practice.

We would like to work together with you to solve this eminently solvable problem.


Ben Nathans, Chair, Graduate Group in History

Josh Klein, Chair, Graduate Group in Physics and Astronomy

Cynthia Damon, Chair, Graduate Group in Classical Studies

Adelheid Voskuhl, Chair, Graduate Group in the History and Sociology of Science

Heather Williams, Chair, Graduate Group in Africana Studies

Shu Yang, Chair, Graduate Group in Materials Science and Engineering

Joseph Lowry, Chair, Graduate Group in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

Ian Fleishman, Chair, Graduate Group in Germanic Languages and Literatures

Eva Del Soldato, Chair, Graduate Group in Italian Studies

Matthew Bidwell, Doctoral Coordinator for the Management Department at Wharton

Gene Buckley, Chair, Graduate Group in Linguistics

Thomas Tartaron, Chair, Graduate Group in Art & Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

Sara Jaffee, Chair, Graduate Group in Psychology

David Eng, Chair, Graduate Group in English

Jeremy McInerney, Chair, Graduate Group in Ancient History

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