A few days ago, this email popped into my mailbox. I have reproduced it in its entirety here, but I have withheld the name of the student.
I am a TA at U of T and I saw your blog on HuffPost. The University Propaganda may be correct, however, I am a doctoral student at the Faculty of Music in a program called D.M.A. This degree program is not even in the funded cohort and therefore, we are completely ignored by the university in terms of any gains that other funded cohorts benefit from when the CUPE strike is over. So, that means that my life has consisted of getting into a doctoral program with no stipend whatsoever, and with a TA job that earns about $6,000 over the course of a year. (Personally, if I was part of the funded cohort, I would feel like I won the lottery: $15K plus full tuition and a TA job for four years? Wow! That is awesome!) We have been gaining some more support from CUPE to at least relieve us from paying incidental fees. Please also note that the total of our tuition with incidental fees is over $10K.
I am in my fifth year as a doctoral student and I have been denied getting $15K for four years in a row. I have been denied $60K. I am outraged and poor, and have horrible financial, physical, mental, and emotional repercussions because of this. I do support the strike but I am also extremely envious because I am seeing people who already get 15K per year possibly get more after the strike ends and here I am getting 0 stipend and settling at 0 stipend.
If you can help getting the word out in your blog to help support those of us who are seriously in financial straits, who are doctoral students with no funding, it would be great appreciated. You can look up more info about our program at the U of T faculty of music website.
Now, I have never met the student who wrote that. Evidently, having starting blogging on issues in Canadian Higher education, and been highly critical of the treatment that some Universities mete out to their employees and students, I was considered approachable enough and sympathetic enough for a complete stranger to write to me in such raw, emotional, personal, and highly moving terms.
I also have to say that I am absolutely appalled that a University could neglect the students who are studying there to such an extent that their financial, physical and mental well-being is placed under such strain. In a subsequent email, the student revealed that there are around 75 students in this program.
Questions need to be asked. Why is every doctoral program not covered by the basic stipend? Why is the department of Music not doing more to assist its doctoral candidates? Why are a group of talented musicians, who want to further their education, being tormented like this? Why should these students have to suffer so much for their art? Being a professional musician is not the most stable of careers at the best of times, and to put our best students through purgatory to get a doctorate is just obscene.
When I was doing my graduate-level research (back in the last century), although the financial rewards were minimal, the spectre of debt did not haunt us, and the research and study was fun, as well as challenging, stimulating and intellectually rigorous. My heart weeps for the present generation of graduate students, who are rolling in debt, and under such pressure. Where has the human touch in education gone to?