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Petition to Stop the Proposed Ban on Graduate Student Employment

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The Graduate School at Brown University has proposed to ban stipend-supported graduate students from working more than 20 hours per semester at jobs outside of their work appointments as teaching assistants, teaching fellows, research assistants, proctors, or fellows. (Please Note: This proposed ban is per semester, not week. It would amount to a limit of fewer than 1.5 hours/week.)

While the Graduate School claims that this policy change is only the enforcement of an existing rule, the Graduate School Handbook clearly describes this limit as a recommendation, not a rule.[1] Instituting a ban is a significant change in practice, as graduate students have long had much greater flexibility, support and encouragement in seeking out additional work opportunities for reasons of both professional and economic necessity.

If allowed to go into effect, this policy change will have a profoundly detrimental impact on graduate students at Brown and on the entire campus community:

The ban will limit graduate students’ professional development and job prospects. Graduate students seek out these jobs in order to supplement graduate work, to gain further knowledge in areas related to their fields, and to practice practical application of academic training—in short, to develop their professional selves while completing graduate work. These work opportunities offer Brown graduate students a critical edge on the tight academic job market, and they are essential for those whose professional goals require demonstrated work outside of the dissertation.

The ban will adversely impact the quality of graduate students’ research. Working helps to off-set the financial costs of fieldwork, archival visits and conference travel, which are necessities of completing graduate study. Existing conference funds are insufficient, and in many disciplines, outside funding and grants are scarce.

This ban will imperil graduate students’ financial survival. Graduate students who have no other means of income outside of their stipend live just over 185% of the official RI poverty line, making economic insecurity the norm for even those without dependents.[2] For graduate students without an economic safety net, for those in academic disciplines in which completing a graduate study takes longer than 5-6 years, and for persons with student loan debt, dependents, expensive health conditions, family obligations, and/or other expenses, outside work is necessary in order to complete graduate study.

This ban will have an adverse effect on Brown’s ability to recruit and retain the most promising and qualified students and on the overall socioeconomic diversity of the graduate student body. This ban will imperil the ability of low-income, first generation and non-traditional students to attend and complete graduate study at Brown University, and it is likely to disproportionately impact students of color. This proposal directly contradicts Brown’s stated commitment “to achieve diversity in our living, learning and working environments by placing emphasis on the recruitment and retention of students, faculty and staff from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.”[3]

There is no justification for this ban. The graduate school has failed to demonstrate that banning outside work will quicken graduate students’ time to completion or that work commitments have been a problem for graduate students. To the contrary, the added financial strain may very well make completing graduate work at the rate desired by the graduate school more difficult. All graduate students balance multiple demands while remaining in good standing, and they consider this their primary responsibility.

Graduate students in good standing should be allowed to make their own decisions about additional work commitments, and any concerns about graduate students’ work commitments are properly the purview of a student’s DGS and adviser. The problems this blanket ban will cause demonstrate that the Graduate School is not in a position to properly assess the individual needs of the diverse graduate student body on campus, nor to address them through one-size-fits-all policies. In addition to the repeal of the proposed ban, all future Graduate School policy proposals should be reviewed for their impact on graduate students by the Diversity Advisory Board and/or the Office of Institutional Diversity prior to their implementation or presentation to the Graduate Council, and this assessment should be made available to the graduate student body.

[1] From the Graduate School Handbook, page 31: “Students who have full-time, supported appointments from the Graduate School are expected to devote themselves to their studies and their appointments. It is recommended that such students work at an outside job no more than 20 hours per semester. Students contemplating outside employment should discuss their hours with their DGS and with a dean of the Graduate School. International students should check with the Office of International Student and Scholar Services on the visa implications of out-side employment.” 
[2] From "2012 Federal Poverty Guidelines by Family Size," 
DHS/OHHS, Implemented April 1, 2012: 
[3] From the Brown University Office of Institutional Diversity’s priorities statement: 


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