Saturday, 1 October 2011

Funding drama

This is a long post; I apologize.

Those of you on Twitter may have seen yesterday's ridiculous drama. In trying to comment on it today, I realized I need more than 140 characters to adequately describe the situation (as best I understand it). Basically, as you may recall (I know, it's been a while since I've made an appearance on the blog), I started my PhD program last month. I'm taking one class as a part-time student, working full-time at my admin job on campus, and - here's the sticky part - working part-time as a teaching assistant.

The TAship was given to me as merit-based funding. Funding is hard to come by - I believe I'm the only first-year to receive a TAship this year, and it was one of their best packages. I was offered a GAship for the 2nd semester, too, but since it only offers tuition remission (no stipend), I turned it down. I was encouraged to take the TAship, though, and was told that I could absolutely do part-time coursework, TA, and work full-time. Since I really wanted (and still want) the experience, I accepted the TAship.

At the time (and, to be honest, even now), I felt a certain amount of guilt in taking the funding package. As I said, it was a rare offer, and the fact of the matter is that I don't need it. I have a job that pays me well and covers my tuition, and I'm only a part-time student; I don't need the TAship's stipend and tuition remission. But they made the decision to offer it to me, knowing my situation, and so I put my own ambition first and accepted it. (though I will point out that I would have gladly given up my job to be a full-time student and dependent on said funding if they'd given me two semesters of stipend, instead of just the one)

So despite the challenge of juggling what amounts to two full-time jobs, all of which require significant amounts of brain power, I've been managing it and everything has been going well. So, of course, it all blows up.

I spoke to the dept admin yesterday since I hadn't seen a paycheck yet. She spoke with the admin of the college, who Flipped. A. Shit. Apparently, it is absolutely 100% not allowed for a student employee to also be a regular employee. I knew this was technically true, but I figured they'd work around it. No. So now the shit has really hit the fan, and by mid-afternoon, the dept head is calling me and warning me that I'm about to lose my TAship.

Whoa, hold on.

When this all started (only yesterday morning), it was a logistical problem: it was a case of the uni physically not being able to pay me both as a regular employee and as a student employee. There are ways around that. But before we could get to that solution, the entire matter had escalated, and suddenly the dean is involved and saying that we're going to have to wait for the provost to decide.

Decide what? Because now this isn't a problem of logistics, it's a problem of "we shouldn't have given funding to a full-time employee who doesn't need it." Moreover, they've given one of their best funding packages to a part-time student. Bad PR all around. So, as far as I can tell, now they'd like to fix this error. Even if they can't manage a complete fix, they’re certainly not going to pull any strings to get this sorted out in my favor.

The major problem for "fixing" this is that I've been teaching since the start of the semester, and that even if they could give the funding to someone else, that someone else will likely be in a similar position: a part-time student, working full-time somewhere else. And that's assuming they can even find someone who's in a position to accept the TAship.

Once it became clear that this was a more serious issue than just logistics (about the time the dean got involved), I made it clear that I was TAing for the experience. If it comes down to it, I'll TA without the stipend. The response was "Thank you, but that doesn't solve the problem."

How does that not solve the fucking problem?

There are so many angles to the situation that I think it'll be weeks before anyone is able to make a decision. There's the fact that they can't pay me as a student employee; there's the fact that they gave the funding to someone who doesn't need it. There's the issue of pulling a TA from a course well into the semester; and there's the issue that they can't separate the funding (the stipend and tuition remission) from the service (TAing).

There’s an entire other part of this story, having to do with my work supervisor, but I’ll cover that in a separate post. But as things stand now, I'm waiting to hear back from the provost about whether I'm "allowed" to work full-time, be a part-time TA, and do coursework. As I said on twitter, how is this anyone's decision but mine?

It's fairly likely that they'll refuse to pay me as a TA; it's quite possible that they'll refuse to let me continue as a TA at all. But from my perspective, those are the most complicated solutions to the problem. So simplicity might win out in the end. But I promise: if the provost tells me I’m not “allowed” to continue, s/he and I are going to have a serious discussion, and they’re going to have to explain to me how the politics of this justify taking away my funding, taking away my teaching experience, disrupting my students’ education, throwing another PhD student into the position mid-semester, and leaving the prof and other TAs to clean up the mess.


Ms. Dig said...

Gosh, it sounds like it's time for a bex and a good lie down. I hope it sorts itself out soon.

I empathise with your huge workload. I work fulltime as an archaeologist in the remote Northern Territory (Australia), study part-time in South Australia, and in my spare time I write conference papers and work on project development. I was studying full-time as well up until this semester, when it all got too much and I had to make some hard decisions. My uni is very supportive.

I can't offer any advice - just an unknown cheer squad of one from the other side of the world. Keep your chin up. You'll pull through.

I love your blog, by the way.

anotherdamnedmedievalist said...

If I were the Provost I would (if they need to take away the fellowship):

Find the funding and pay you an adjunct's salary.

Rescind the offer, give it to another student, BUT assign that student a class next semester.

It's wonky, but it fixes the problems. The only downside is that they would be paying a student for work to be done, unless they can defer that entire TA-ship till Spring.

And apologize to you.