We are pleased to announce that we have made significant progress on a key demand of the RISE campaign. We will soon have guaranteed transitional funding for all students across MIT who wish to leave an unhealthy advising relationship.
Advising is so central to our time as grad students at MIT. Unfortunately, an abusive, negligent, or dysfunctional advising relationship changes the entire course of our time at MIT, making what is often already a time of financial and emotional struggle into one of pure distress, which can even cause students to leave the Institute without their intended degree.
We want students in unhealthy advising situations to know they can change their situation without worrying about missing a paycheck, losing their visa status, or fearing retaliation. Advising relationships in academia involve a significant power imbalance. Advisors can, for any reason or no reason at all, make or break a student’s career. We see guaranteed transitional funding and support as an important step towards empowering grad students to improve their advising situation and practice greater academic freedom.
We worked on these demands primarily with Chancellor Barnhart and Dean Chandrakasan. We went back and forth negotiating proposals for a transitional support program that would be brought to the Dean’s council and finally the Provost, along the way garnering support and input from a working group consisting of Deans and Department Heads from across MIT’s schools, other relevant admin, and representation from the GSC.
RISE played a central role in this process, developing the initial proposal, which the group iterated on, that was based on four core principles: 1) broad eligibility & financial security for students, 2) centralization of program administration through OGE, 3) provision of non-funding accommodations, and 4) addressing issues with problematic advisors. We invite you to read the final version here. Implementation of this proposal is now planned for beginning March 8th, a fast turn around which we greatly appreciate.
To summarize, we won an Institute-wide guarantee for transitional funding and support, for those situations the program does cover, via a very clearly outlined process that allows students to be more empowered and secure. Students will not miss a pay period, and the amount they can be asked to work for their old advisor has been clearly defined and limited. We have created a route through OGE, where students can find support with less conflict of interest. Students are guaranteed access to other reasonable academic accommodations, including flexibility around degree requirements and milestones to minimize the amount of time their degree is ultimately set back, as well as avenues for alternative letter writers.
We wanted this program to apply to all graduate students with any motivation to switch labs. However, the proposal was limited to only students in unhealthy situations (e.g., an abusive, negligent, or dysfunctional advisor or colleague). Further, any attempt to address problematic advisors made evident through this program was eliminated from the proposal.
The other major challenge is the fundamentally decentralized structure of how this program will be funded and administered. While this centralized commitment is a huge step, the funding for this program will come primarily from the departments themselves. Thus, departmental inequities persist and department admin are still influenced to disincentivize use of the program. Unfortunately the administration refused to discuss a centralized funding source, as if it was so alien it was not even worth discussing.
This victory was a result of grad students coming together, collecting over 1,000 signatures sending a clear message that collectively we can bring about a healthier and more equitable MIT. We aim to continue to discuss the final proposal’s shortcomings with the admin as we develop Phase II of the program. Thus, it is crucial that we continue to keep the collective pressure on the Institute that made this change possible in the first place.
This is a strong start to addressing these issues. However, we still have a significant way to go to make advising at MIT live up to what it can and should be for a world-class research and educational institution. Please join us as we work to create a healthier learning, living, and working environment for all grad students!