U. Arizona Retracts Ph.D. Funding Offers to New Students Because of Pandemic (several updates)

The Department of Philosophy at the University of Arizona wrote last night to prospective students who were admitted to its Ph.D. program this season, but who had yet to accept,* to inform them that their offers of funding have been retracted owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The information is being discussed on a private Facebook group for philosophy graduate program applicants and the decision (though not yet all of the details) was confirmed via email by a faculty member at Arizona. (See Update 1, below.)

According to the discussion in the Facebook group, the offers themselves have not been retracted—just the funding. The accepted applicants were told they could accept and defer until 2021, when, presumably, they would be likely to be re-offered funding.

Multiple sources sent me versions of the following screenshots:

It was not clear at this time whether the decision was made at the university, college, or departmental level. Nor is it clear what the basis of the decision is: that it was deemed not worth it to admit a new class if there is a large possibility that, in the fall, in-person meetings and instruction will still not be happening, or that the university anticipates a near-term funding shortfall owing to decreased enrollments or other budgetary matters related to the pandemic, or something else. (See Update 2, below.)

I have sent out inquiries seeking further details and will report back when I learn more. (See Update 3, below.)

UPDATE 1 (2:49pm): According to Jason Turner, chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, the retraction “only applies to students who have not already accepted our offers. Those who have already so accepted will continue to be funded according to the terms of the original offer.”

UPDATE 2 (3:14pm): The Department of Philosophy was acting on instructions from the “Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, JP Jones, to withdraw financial offers to all graduate recruits… Dean Jones was acting on the authority of the Dean of the Graduate College, Andrew Carnie.”

The reason for the decision was financial uncertainty owing to possible reduced enrollments: “The University of Arizona is dealing with incredible uncertainty about its financial resources as the fall 2020 semester approaches. Given the potential damage of Covid 19, there is little good data to discern whether our enrollments might plummet due to students being unable to return to school… These factors have moved administrators here to plan to cut funding dramatically given the very likely prospect of enrollment drops that are just off the charts. Regrettably, one place Dean Carnie, Dean Jones, and others chose to cut is financial commitments to graduate program recruits for this fall semester of 2020.”

This is according to a copy of the email sent to one of the affected applicants by the department, the text of which is below:

UPDATE 3 (4:54pm): In an email, Jason Turner, the chair of the department, adds further details:

Yesterday evening, we were informed by Andrew Carnie, Dean of the Graduate College, in conjunction with the Provost, that all outstanding offers of funding to prospective graduate students be rescinded. This however did not apply to those who have already accepted offers. It also only applied to students whose funding would come from university sources; offers funded by e.g. external grants were exempt. It is our understanding that this is a university-wide decision and applies to all such outstanding offers in any department. Our understanding is also that the Graduate College bases the legality of this decision on a clause in offer letters which allows for defunding under exceptional circumstances. We were also informed by JP Jones, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (the college in which Philosophy is housed) that he would grant no exceptions to this policy.

We do not comply with this policy by choice, but by command. It is a policy that we both disagree with and have opposed, but are forced to enact.

Unlike offers of funding, offers of acceptance have not been retracted. But we fully understand that an offer of acceptance without funding is hardly better than a rejection, and we do not expect any students to come to the University of Arizona unfunded. But to stress again, this decision has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of any individuals’ applications; we deem the applications of those whom we originally accepted, as well as those originally on our waitlist, to be of an exceptionally high quality. That we will not be able to welcome them into our program next year is a fact about which we are acutely disappointed.

We would be absolutely delighted if we could admit those students who have been directly affected by this at a later date—provided they still want to come. We understand that they may have other offers and that, regardless of those offers, given the way this has played out they may not want to come to the University of Arizona—a judgment we would understand completely.

We are deeply, deeply disappointed at this turn of events, and sincerely hope that those harmed by our University’s decisions will nonetheless be able to make arrangements that will lead them to a future of happiness and success.

UPDATE 4 (4/9/20, 7:26am): How likely is it that other schools will adopt this measure before the standard April 15th deadline for accepting offers? If your department/school is proceeding normally, sharing that information in the comments could be reassuring to prospective students.

*This parenthetical clause—“but who had yet to accept”—was inserted after I was informed about the information in Update 1, above.

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