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admitted to its Ph.D. program this season, but who had yet to accept,* to inform them that their offers of funding have been retracted owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.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According to the discussion in the Facebook group, the offers themselves have not been retracted—just the funding.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.
This is completely unacceptable, and embarrassing for UArizona. I ardently hope that serious blowback will soon be visited on whoever is responsible.Report
I doubt this will prove to be an issue that is unique to U of A. At my (very wealthy, though not top-tier wealthy) private university, we have already been instructed to (a) not allow any students on off our wait list (when we only thus far have about half our normal size entering class); (b) ask students who have accepted their offers if they would consider deferring for a year. All sorts of other massively bad budgetary things are happening (e.g.: firing lecturers who supposedly had guaranteed job security, but not the protections of tenure). U of A has been having financial issues for years as far as I know; which is why the contrast to my wealthy private university is important here. This isn’t to justify their actions, but administrators at every university are slashing budgets wherever they can. And if they think undergrad enrollments will be down in 2020-21 (which surely they will be), it makes (pragmatic) sense for them to slash grad student funding, even if it’s morally problematic (which I don’t deny–just want to flag that they might not have much of a choice, financially speaking)…Report
Doesn’t undergrad enrollment tend to increase during recessions?Report
Enrollment at community colleges usually goes up sharply during downturns and I think 4 year schools that have a lot of non-residential or non-traditional students (or what the snobs call commuter colleges) see an increase in enrollment though maybe not as pronounced an increase. Downturns usually don’t make much positive difference on the enrollment figures at more “traditional” universities. That’s because the people who go to college in a recession who wouldn’t otherwise go are overwhelmingly older people who’ve lost a job or otherwise been negatively impacted by the bad economy. They can’t pick up their whole lives and move to pursue an education. But I’m not even sure what this recession will do to community college enrollment. On the one hand past trends would suggest a 15% unemployment figure would send our enrollments through the roof. On the other this situation is just so unprecedented it’s hard to know what will happen. For one thing, people have lost their jobs so quickly this time and with so little warning that it might take them longer than usual to go back to college if that’s what they’re considering. For another, I’m going to guess that a lot of people aren’t going to want to sit in a room with 25-40 people in close quarters if they can’t help it unless and until we develop a vaccine. There’s no precedent or playbook for this and that kind of uncertainty terrifies high level admin.Report
Sam partly says this above, but the falling enrollments I had in mind were not recession-caused, but Covid-19 caused! University administrations are currently weighing the (increasingly likely) possibility that fall semesters will be online-only; if I were an 18 year old (or an 18 year old’s parent!) I think I would be pretty motivated to defer starting college even if instruction ends up being in-person in the fall and students manage to move into dorms etc. If I were an 18 year old who suddenly found myself in a different role (say, providing more for my family; suffering the death of a parent; etc.), I would almost certainly reconsider.
I can only imagine these numbers will increase: https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/04/09/survey-shows-potential-impact-coronavirus-enrollmentReport
You’re already posting anonymously–can you say what university this is? I’d like to know which school right now thinks it’s in such bad of shape that it’s firing retained instructors and people holding similar positions.Report
I can’t say what university this is, but I partly don’t think it matters much. I’ve heard structurally similar things about other universities! And a lot of these things are not revealed to faculty, staff, students, etc. until much too late in the process.The point was just that the shit is hitting the fan pretty much everywhere, as far as I can tell. Similar things have probably been decided at many places, but haven’t yet been officially uttered.Report
It seems inevitable that this was going to start happening at some of the big state schools; what surprises me most is that it was a relatively well-known (and seemingly well-supported) program that went first.Report
I think that the question of the ultimate source of the retractions is important. I’d like to believe that this is something that is coming from the University because it nicely fits my prejudices, but as is often the case I’m sure there’re a lot of moving parts and I’m disinclined to assume I know what’s really going on.
However, it still is awful for those students who will be severely impacted. I can’t imagine what that would be like and my heart goes out to them.Report
Applicants who had received offers from Arizona may have notified *other* schools to which they were also admitted that they would not accept their offers, this because they preferred Arizona. Moreover, this is what we encourage applicants to do: notify a school that has accepted you that you won’t attend, if you know that you have a better offer. It’s the polite thing to do. Now some of these students — the ones who were waiting to hear back from the remaining schools to which they applied (e.g. hoping to get off the waitlist at NYU) — are screwed.Report
You always advise students to accept an offer, and receive confirmation of the acceptance, before you advise them to reject offers elsewhere, though, yeah?Report
No, I don’t. If a student gets accepted to X, Y and Z, and they strongly prefer both X and Y to Z, I encourage them to turn down Z asap so the system can get moving. They have offers from both X and Y – they can keep investigating them, and maybe negotiating with them, before acceptance. But if they don’t turn down Z while that is going on, the whole system grinds to a halt.
Maybe that advice will have to change now, because it presupposes that offers are really offers that won’t get rescinded before April 15.Report
My advice to applicants is similar to Brian’s. if you have multiple offers, go ahead and try to decide as soon as possible which one is your top choice and decline all of the others. Obviously, you’ll first want to gather the information you need, by visiting schools if possible, contacting current grad students, etc. But once you have that information, seriously weigh the pros and cons of each option and then make the call.
With any schools you’re waitlisted at, do something similar: gather information about the schools (and feel free to do things like ask for funding details if you don’t know them and that information would make a difference). Then rank them relative to one another and the top choice program you’re admitted to. Withdraw yourself from the waitlist at any schools that rank lower than your top current admission; doing so helps those schools and the other students on the waitlists there. And by having your rankings ready, you’ll be in an excellent position to pull the trigger immediately and act if an admission offer does come through on April 13 or 14, which happens quite often. You won’t have to freak out making a momentous choice with next to no time. Being ready to move is good for you and for the others involved in the admissions process, as there is always a lot of craziness on the days leading up to April 15.
But of course, this advice assumes that an offer in hand won’t be rescinded.Report
Agree with David Beard: it’s never a done deal, until it’s a done deal. (Welcome to Tautology Club.)
Otherwise, you’re counting proverbial chickens before they hatch, and that’s always risky. If folks are advising grad applicants to do this—to turn down offers before you accept any—then that risk ought to be made transparent and very clear, even if you assume that it’s a known risk among smart people; or else, that advising seems disingenous and even unethical.
I get the desire to keep “the system” moving—at least from the institution’s perspective—though it seems hyperbolic that it’d grind to a halt unless grad applicants did supererogatory (and personally unwise) things. But why are we privileging “the system” here, instead of focusing on what’s best for the grad applicant? What’s so great about how “the system” works now, esp. for grad students? If “the system” is really more important than individual welfare, then there shouldn’t be any complaints when there’s collateral damage and some applicants suffer; yet the point of this thread seems to be that it’s unfair, etc. to specific applicants. So, this seems to be a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it, too…
Grad students need to look out for themselves, first and foremost. That’s the bottom line, and so few others are looking out for them to begin with. “The system” is much better resourced and can survive without their altruism/sacrifice, esp. in what’s ultimately a competitive, not cooperative, admissions process. If folks are giving grad applicants the advice to wait until the deadline before committing in case a better offer comes along, well, then they already recognize that this is a competitive if not adversarial process, and that grad students should prioritize their own interests, even if it’s an inconvenience and even harmful to other schools waiting to hear back from them (i.e., “the system”).
If you’re an grad applicant and want to play this waiting game, more power to you. But there is a risk calculation you need to make here in waiting, i.e., games can be lost. And there’s something to be said about swiftly and enthusiastically accepting a good offer you can live with, whether for grad school, jobs, marriage, politics, life, etc. Make a decision, commit to it, don’t look back or torture yourself with second-guessing, and move on (but do learn from any mistakes).
Pro tip: grad applicants should be accepting their pending offers RIGHT NOW. if you’re expecting your dream school to give you an admissions offer in the next few days, not only are you playing the waiting game, but YOU are the one who’s being played as well. You’re their backup plan if they can’t get enough commits to fill an incoming class and generate the revenue needed. (And all schools are businesses in the end.) It’s ok to be someone’s second-choice, but make sure it’s worth the wait and risk.
That said, if UoA could have done something differently, e.g., not admit grad students next year in order to honor the pending offers, then maybe it would’ve been more decent of them to do that. They may be within their rights to rescind pending offers, and it’s understandable for any organization to declare a financial emergency during CV19—I know a lot of people who were laid off or furloughed right now—but perhaps there could’ve been cuts elsewhere than to this particularly vulnerable and valuable group, as part of the next generation of philosophers. But I don’t know what other options UofA had and am just speculating here…Report
Agree with David 100%. Why would we encourage any graduate students to prioritize the system over their interests? Graduate programs will fill any open slots with exceptionally good students. If I’m a prospective graduate student in this environment right now, I don’t turn down any offers until I’ve formally accepted and I know that certain contractual obligations are in place.Report
Oops. Wrote “David” above, meant “Patrick.” This is what happens when you internet too late at night.Report
It’s cool. Patrick agreed with me, so happiness remains. 🙂Report
I have thankfully accepted elsewhere and fortunately did not apply to Arizona. HOWEVER, I am someone who was declining offers starting in early Feb. I made those decisions only because I was assured offers were not things that would be rescinded. When I committed to the program I will be attending in the fall, I had already declined 3 offers and 2 waitlists. If it had turned out that the program I accepted would rescind their funding offer, I would be deeply regretting declining at least the waitlist offers…
And I had declined those offers early because I was trying to do the right thing by other applicants who might also be waiting on spots to open up. It seems that the universities however feel no obligation to do the right thing by their accepted applicants.Report
A graduate appointment is like a job, yeah? (Recognize that I have a union organizer’s heart here.). You accept an offer, and receive confirmation of the acceptance, before you reject offers elsewhere, yeah?Report
Given these new developments, I think that is good advice for all future applicants.
But all advice I received for the last few months was to decline offers as soon as you received better offers, even if you hadn’t officially accepted those offers.
So, let’s say I received offers from programs A, B, and C, and was waitlisted at program D. Let’s also say that I prefer programs C and D, with D being a top choice. The advice I received from my letter writers and professors was to decline offers A and B (as early as possible, for the sake of those waitlisted at A and B). If program C, then, was Arizona, I would be in a bad spot, because I would be left with no offers.
Of course, it would be unwise to have declined offers if it were known that this was a possibility. But it seems to me like applicants were being advised as if it were NOT a possibility that offers would be rescinded. Obviously, going forward, I do not think applicants will or should be advised in this way (which may entail some other problems).Report
So Update 1 says that this cut does not affect students who already accepted the offer, only those who haven’t; however, the letter mentions *all graduate recruits*? So students who already accepted are not recruits anymore, I guess? Okay.Report
I wasn’t aware my title had been challenged, much less stolen, ‘Angriest Grad Student’Report
Sorry, you are right. Now, although I enjoy the fun internet banter, I do not want to take the seriousness of it (i am not saying that you do either). I was just trying to show how pissed I am about this. I applied to UofA and have friends who were thinking about going and have rejected other offers.Report
I understand and agree–the gravity of the situation is not lost on me as I am an affected party (not because of UoA’s decision but because of another university’s admissions freeze.) Just have a habit of tossing out some jokes now and then.Report
I’m wondering if this means that in general, students admitted to programs should accept their current offers asap — I’m also in at a big, highly-ranked state school where I’d be thrilled about going, but I haven’t accepted the offer yet because I’m on a waitlist too. If big state school pulls funding and then I don’t get into the other school off the waitlist, no grad school for me, I guess?Report
I’d accept if I were you (given that you’re ‘thrilled’ about the school in question, it’s not just a so-so backup plan). The financial storm coming for universities over the next year is probably going to be catastrophic – recession, stock market crash, state funding cuts, and physical curtailment of movement from COVID add up to a pretty appalling package. If Arizona’s management team have run their forecasts and now feel the need to do something as drastic as this in response, others may follow.
(Disclaimer: I have absolutely no information about whether Pitt (or USC, or Oxford) is going to do anything like this; it’s generic advice.)Report
Accept, definitely over a waitlist. I started advising students to accept the second they started closing dormitories.
If the dorms remain closed in Fall, or if parents are unwilling or unable to afford sending their kids to the open dorms, the math of this whole enterprise shifts hard.Report
“I’m also in at a big, highly-ranked state school where I’d be thrilled about going, but I haven’t accepted the offer yet because I’m on a waitlist too. If big state school pulls funding and then I don’t get into the other school off the waitlist, no grad school for me, I guess?”
How could you not realize it’s a terrible idea to not accept the offer after typing that sentence? Seems to me very clear what should be done here.Report
It is unclear from the post whether UArizona is retracting funding or just the guarantee of funding. That is: has it decided now that it needs to curtail its graduate cohort in 2020-2021, or has it just decided that it needs the option of not doing so (even at the cost of losing people to other programs). If it’s the latter, admitted grad students might want to hold on to their 2020 offer – in June UArizona may find its projections are short of the worst-case scenario and may decide to go ahead with funding, and if they don’t you can defer to 2021. I would want to find out urgently if I were in that situation.Report
From University of Arizona:
Given the unanticipated financial pressures brought to bear by the coronavirus crisis, we wanted to give potential graduate students who had not yet accepted our offer the opportunity to make other plans if they chose. We are still honoring our outstanding offers of admission, but with limited or no financial support.
The limited funding does not apply to students who have already accepted their offers of funded support. This also does not apply to funding based on grants or scholarships.
Our goal to protect our graduate students from potential losses of funding and we needed to limit outstanding financial offers to ensure that.Report
“We wanted to give potential graduate students who had not yet accepted our offer the opportunity to make other plans if they chose.”
This wording is utterly disrespectful. Doing an already shameful act coupled with this almost insolent language stains the U of A further: not only administration, but also its Philosophy faculty. They seem to have almost no care for the affected students. We will see how they will pay for this shameful decision which will be remembered for years.Report
As someone affected by this, I agree that the wording here was salt in the wound. But this doesn’t reflect the philosophy faculty. Chris Sigurdson is not a faculty member of the department, but the VP of Communications for the University of Arizona.
I don’t blame the Arizona Philosophy Department. The correspondence from Michael McKenna and Jason Turner above shows that they’re quite upset about this, just as we are.Report
I assume that the Philosophy faculty might inform all waiting admitted students before enforcing the command so that the students may have quickly decided to accept the offer of U of A. Instead of carrying out a wrongful order of the administration, everyone in the Philosophy faculty should have written one single email informing all the waiting students about what is coming. That way, their act would not carry any risk for themselves too as they do it all together. They are the leading philosophers of the world. They should have acted more moral and clever. They would have been lauded for their courageous and tactful act. Now they are condemned.Report
For those of you talking about how horrible of a situation it is, yes, it is horrible, and I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone who had an open offer but didn’t accept before this email.
But let this be a warning to everyone. When someone makes you an offer for anything–it can be rescinded at any point up until it has been accepted. That is how the world works. If you get an offer you like, you should accept it.
Now here’s the dilemma: This sort of stuff is going to encourage graduate students to accept any offers they receive immediately, and then back out of those offers as soon as they receive better offers. Why wouldn’t they do this?
My academic life has thus far worked out pretty well, but one thing I look back on and think I made the wrong decision was when I accepted my graduate school offer and then immediately removed myself from consideration at a handful of other programs (including Arizona). That was a mistake. Not because things didn’t work out for me (again, they did), but it was a bad business decision. Now, given what Arizona was forced to do, it’s now not even the case that what I did (and nearly everyone does) is “the right thing to do.” Why wouldn’t prospective graduate students operate like this going forward?Report
I’d disagree with this sentiment. It’s been noted that UA offers of admission are explicitly made with a proviso concerning available funding. But other universities’/ departments’ offers are not conditional in this way, so there should be greater confidence in the security of those offers. Without that proviso, I imagine there are legal risks to universities in withdrawing offers.
What we have here is a collective action problem, the contours of which should be familiar to philosophers. The current system may not be perfect, but it has lots of benefits for both candidates and departments. (What benefits? It gives candidates time to survey their options, departments an opportunity to fill their spaces with the best candidates). Its survival depends on the continued cooperation of both departments and prospective students. If candidates start behaving as recommended, we are opting for the State of Nature, and the end result is that just about everybody loses.
What should happen here (from a design point of view — my apologies to the good people who populate the UA department of philosophy!) is that UA loses the reputation of being a reliable partner, and is shunned by other participants in the admissions dance in the future. NOT that we all abandon the entire system because one player defaulted.Report
I agree with Steve Finlay’s response. There is an additional consideration. If a candidate were to go back on a decision (as a director of grad admissions, I’ve never seen this happen), this might have fairly serious negative effects on that candidate’s reputation.Report
It depends on the language of the offer letter. It’s why it’s important to read offer letters and contracts, as well as to know your rights under the law if someone rescinds an offer or reneges on a contract.
We can imagine all sorts of hypotheticals about under what conditions people or institutions will suffer damage to their reputation. In practice, I doubt that Arizona will receive a significant downtick in applications next year given the market, how they’re ranked, etc.
As for a student’s reputation, given how the market is right now and many people are fighting for these spots, it’s kind of odd that we would hold backing out against a graduate student. I’m not in the position of admitting graduate students, but I have been the chair of hiring committees. Had one of the people I hired decided a week before classes began that they changed their mind, it’d be far more inconvenient than a graduate student doing that. Even in that case I’m not going to hold it against that person. At the end of the day, we should want everyone to do what is best for themselves. We’re paid to figure out what’s in the best interest of our institution as the cards we are dealt change. Not a big deal.Report
Just a note about the law: offers of this kind are all conditional in the way that Arizona’s makes explicit. They don’t even need to have any particular reason to revoke the offer.
Legally speaking, offers can be revoked at any time prior to acceptance, as long as that revocation is made known to the person who received the offer. (That’s true even if you are told you have until, say, April 15 to make a decision, unless an explicit option agreement is drawn up.) They still can revoke the offer without any legal problem at all. Big reputational problems, as in this case, sure, but no legal problems.Report
I am wondering whether my Reagan-Recession era, rust-belt, it’s-all-a-house-of-cards, working class background has influenced how I advise students.Report
As Steve Finlay notes, if people adopted this proposal–to immediately accept offers and then back out when something better comes along–it would seriously screw up the grad admission process. That would be bad for both departments and for applicants.
I try to be responsible about managing my waitlists. Once I have enough people accept our offer, I inform people low on our waitlist that they won’t be getting an offer from us by April 15. And when my cohort target is filled, I let everybody remaining on the waitlist about that. This is turn allows them to accept an offer in hand from another school, and so the logjam starts to break up in the days leading to April 15. It’s still pretty chaotic, with lots of people having to wait until the very end, but if I and other people in charge of admissions knew that the ‘commitments’ of prospective grad students couldn’t be counted on, it would totally freeze up the process.Report
What you say is wrong. You say: “When someone makes you an offer for anything–it can be rescinded at any point up until it has been accepted. That is how the world works. If you get an offer you like, you should accept it.”
This is simply wrong for our case because everyone knows the rules of the graduate admissions process in North America, a rule which no party should break so that the system functions for the benefit of all. Also, it is a duty to keep your promises and a strong promise is broken here in an unprecedented manner. Two evils in one deed really.Report
Actually, this is right: “When someone makes you an offer for anything–it can be rescinded at any point up until it has been accepted. That is how the world works.”
Maybe you’re talking about ethics, but the above is a point of fact in law. I might wish the world (or our society, or even market-based system) were different—and I do—but that doesn’t change how the world is now. Sorry.Report
The issue is how the world ought to be. It’s not how the world is.Report
I am not talking particularly ethical. What I wrote are the rules of the graduate admissions process that everyone knows. This is the point of making the act of U of A such big news. They have broken the rules in an unprecedented way. You two are both off the point. We are not talking about how the world works (do not use such big words by the way)–this is irrelevant. We are talking about how the graduate admissions process in North America works.Report
Honestly, none of my students were ever taught these rules. (Caveat: I am an in adjacent field, not philosophy proper, so there may be different norms, but I doubt it.)Report
You said: “I am not talking particularly ethical. What I wrote are the rules of the graduate admissions process that everyone knows.”
Putting aside the plain fact that not everyone knows these rules (incl. me and others on this thread, apparently), can you produce a link for these alleged rules? If they’re binding rules, then it should be an authoritative source.
If you even have a link to official policy—which is much weaker than law or binding rules—ok, you might have something, if grad applicants could reasonably expect they could rely on that policy. But I’m not aware of any such stated policy in the discipline or at UofA.
However, if you’re not talking about binding rules but only customs, norms, or unofficial/unwritten policy, then we’re back to ethics (or pragmatism), and the original claim still holds: an offer “CAN be rescinded at any point up until it has been accepted.”
Now, SHOULD a pending offer ever be rescinded? That’s a good question but a different kind (an ethics or pragmatic question) which doesn’t affect the offerer’s actual ability to rescind.
I’m not saying ethics isn’t important and can’t be used to effect change, but only whether UofA “can” do this without being compelled to reverse or remedy its action. That’s what I take to be the relevant (i.e., urgent and actionable) issue here, not ethics. You could start a campaign to shame them in hopes of a reversal, but that social/ethics penalty doesn’t compel them to do anything, and so they still “can” rescind pending offers.Report
Thanks, yeah, I saw that. I seriously doubt that’s a binding resolution but, ok, let’s say that’s an established norm in grad school admissions. Maybe that can be leveraged to pressure UofA to reverse its decision, not as a matter of law but ethics. But the language is still vague:
“If an offer of financial support is made prior to April 15, applicants have until April 15 to accept it and the program should honor that commitment through April 15.”
“Should honor” is much weaker than “must honor.” The resolution also is silent on whether there can be exigencies that reasonably support rescinding an offer (and I’m not saying that’s what we have here).
If no exceptions are allowed, then the “should” is really a “must”…but that’s not the language UofA agreed to; and I doubt that was the original intent or expectation by the signatories. If a college closes because of bankruptcy, it doesn’t have to (because it cannot) honor financial offers or even signed contracts; so this already is an implied exception.
Also, without a clear penalty/sanction, the resolution doesn’t have much force, i.e., not binding. At most, maybe UofA gets kicked out of the Council of Graduate Schools or gets its wrists slapped. It may be unethical to not honor a non-binding resolution you agreed to, but that doesn’t mean it “can’t” be done.Report
Right, it’s very clearly not a matter of law. To be honest, I don’t really know how to interpret the distinction between ‘should’ and ‘must’ when we’re outside the domain of law – and I don’t really want to over-philosophize this.
In any case, I don’t bring up the April 15 resolution because I expect it to force Arizona’s hand to overturn the decision, or even anything remotely like that. I guess I really brought it up in this instance because you asked for an official policy – maybe it’s not binding as you say, but it’s more official than anything else out there. I don’t know. It’s what we grad students and those who advise use refer to in this process, so hopefully it at least shows you what many people have in mind in this discussion.
In general, the reason the April 15 resolution is significant to me right now concerns a tone that’s been prevalent in the comments here. (Full disclosure: I was one of the applicants directly affected by this, so maybe my frustration is causing me to read off a tone from the comments that isn’t really there. I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s certainly possible, given the circumstances.) There seems to be this kind of tone that we applicants are naive for not expecting this or for not reading our offer letters more carefully (the contingency clause in my letter does not apply to the 2020-2021 funding, but I won’t even get into that issue here). I do not think it was unreasonable of me to expect to have my offer until April 15, given the resolution. I always recognized that it was possible that offers would be rescinded, given the pandemic, and I never assumed I would have legal recourse if they did rescind the offer. But the best evidence I had to proceed with was the university’s commitment to the April 15 resolution and my offer letter’s explicitly saying that they would honor the offer until April 15. So I find the suggestions that we all should have immediately accepted our offers frustrating; I think we had reasonable expectations and it is not our fault that they ultimately didn’t pan out (maybe it’s nobody’s fault, but it’s certainly not ours).
To be frank, I can’t imagine a situation in which one can utter ‘that’s the way the world works’ without condescension. I don’t mean to be rude. I just want to point out that many of us graduate students affected by this aren’t trying to blow things out of proportion. I don’t think we had illusions about “the way the world works.” We’re just frustrated by this situation, and it doesn’t really help to have a number of professional philosophers commenting about all the ways we should have done things differently, when I really don’t think it’s the case that we should have done things differently, given the information we had access to.Report
Fair enough, Grad Student. And to be clear, I’m not really faulting grad applicants here, though I am urging them now to accept a pending offer before that disappears.
If that’s a sincere expectation of grad applicants, I would put more of the responsibility on the advising side, since these are faculty members who understand the realities of the profession and should know better. They need to be much more transparent about and underscore the risk, as well as the Council for Grad Schools in promoting such a policy, even if some benefit accrues to applicants from the policy.
Or, as you say, maybe it’s nobody’s fault, if the risks truly were understood by all. But I still see a lot of blame thrown at UofA right now by others. Maybe they deserve it; I don’t know.
There is a great power imbalance at play here, and applicants need to remember that “the system” is not really altruistic, fair, or interested in your welfare—at least not when push comes to shove.
Best of luck to you all.Report
1) Save $1,000+ to drop on GRE / applications
2) Drop $1,000+ on GRE / applications
3) Wait up to four months for a reply from grad programs (yes, there are schools I applied to four months ago that have yet to send any reply)
4) Painstakingly weigh options from various programs that you cannot visit in person—if you’re lucky enough to have any options
5) Deliberate over the weight of the real and understandable peer pressure on grad forums to make your major life decision immediately in order to free up spots for waitlisted students before those waitlists become obsolete (since many schools aren’t able to extend new offers at this time)
6) And now, an offer is no longer a real offer (unless you saved way more than $1,000+)
There are parts of this process that will be stressful and awful no matter what. It’s a shame that this year, the whole bit is a living nightmareReport
It helps a little bit that you can permissibly completely ignore 5) and think only about yourself while you’re deliberating.Report
The rescinding of offers already made is a bad thing, and I feel sorry for the students caught out here. However, I welcome the more general changes we are undergoing that this incident reflects. There are too many philosophy PhD programs offering too many places. The demand for these places is often driven by a quixotic understanding of what spending 5+ years in a PhD program will be like, and what one’s employment prospects will be afterwards. It’s also encouraged by self-interested faculty who personally benefit from having more PhD students around. Therefore, a reduction in programs, or in the number of students they admit, is a good thing.
Some have also pointed out that the financial problems that Arizona faces are faced by many other US universities, particularly state schools. This is apparently due to over-saturation of the US higher-education market and state austerity budgets, and is being exacerbated by COVID-19. From a US perspective this might be a bad thing, particularly if it results in higher-education becoming more dominated by private universities. However, from a global perspective all of this seems to be good news. The US is far too dominant in global higher-education. There is too much concentration of top universities (think top 500 or so) in the US, when we would be better off if they were spread more evenly throughout the world. Many countries are sending too many of their brightest students to be educated in the US when it would be more ideal if they were educated at home or in their region. As higher-education declines in the US, it is growing and improving in other countries, particularly those in Asia. This is very good news and a shift that should be welcomed by all those who are not US-centric. There are some good features of the US model of higher education that other countries should try to emulate. However, there are many bad features that, in my view, make it rotten at its core. US cultural dominance in the world is in decline. This is generally a good thing. Higher education is one of the pillars of US cultural dominance so its decline is part of this cycle.Report
To say that US universities’ financial problems will be exacerbated by COVID-19 is rather like saying that the US’s problems with infrastructure would be exacerbated by a nuclear war.Report
I am not very knowledgeable about the financial problems faced by US universities. However, your analogy doesn’t seem apt. A nuclear war would be devastating even to countries with outstanding infrastructure. However, in many parts of the world universities will not be financially devastated by COVID-19. This is because in many parts of the world the higher education sector is funded and directed by the government. Tuition fees for local students are largely covered. There is bipartisan support for growing the higher education sector. And, it is clear that even in an economic crisis the government will continue to adequately fund higher education.Report
There is bipartisan support for growing the higher education sector. And, it is clear that even in an economic crisis the government will continue to adequately fund higher education.
This isn’t true–during a serious economic downturn, state support for higher education is often slashed. This is particularly true for states with more conservative governments. And I should note that tax revenue is going to go way down during a deep recession, and states aren’t allowed to run budget deficits. I hope that the federal government, which does have the ability to run deficits, will send major funding to the states to help see them through this crisis, but that’s up in the air right now.Report
Tim, I think you are talking about the US. JTD is talking about other parts of the world. Perhaps the use of “bipartisan” confused you? In many other parts of the world, there are more than two relevant political parties, so perhaps JTD should have said “multi-partisan”, or “panpartisan”, or maybe just “nonpartisan”.Report
Ah yes–I did overlook that. (Sorry JTD.) Since the context was Arizona, I was thinking of higher ed in the US. But is it really true that in other parts of the world a serious recession higher ed will continue to be adequately funded because of a multi-partisan commitment to it? (Genuine question, not rhetorical.) I wouldn’t be surprised if the current downturn dwarfs the last one.Report
JTD seems to be primarily talking about universities in Asia. I can’t say anything about those, but what he/she says is certainly not true about Universities in Australia, which are suffering greatly from the current situation, both because of domestic students, but more immediately because of the lack of international, perhaps especially Chinese students. The government (mostly the Liberal [i.e., right-wing] party, but even the Labor party, sadly enough) has under-funded higher ed, making it rely on high fee paying foreign students. Now that they are gone, at least for some time, there is a very significant budget crunch.Report
Yes Matt, I wasn’t particularly thinking of Australia, and I agree that things might get bad there. But are they are bad as you suggest?
The main incoming term starts in late February and applications are made in the last few months of the previous year. So presumably there was normal enrollment numbers at the start of this year and most of those students have transitioned to online courses as necessary. Perhaps next year’s enrollment numbers will be hit if things are still bad at the end of this year when applications are due. However, in Australia domestic students tend to attend universities in their home city and, under HECS, their fees are heavily subsidized and deferred until they are earning well. Thus, worries that are relevant in the US, such as those about being away from home, or taking on substantial financial burdens, don’t seem to apply. Therefore, even in uncertain times, wouldn’t most of them still go to university? Other options they have, such as taking a gap year to travel or work, don’t look feasible In the current environment. And during the GFC I heard that university numbers in Australia stayed high because it was perceived as a safe bet in an uncertain economy. So, it’s not clear to me that there would be an issue with domestic students.
However, I see the problem with international students. Many Australian universities are so dependent on full-fee paying international students that any substantial drop in their numbers will be a significant financial blow that could put them in the red. So maybe, if things carry over into 2021, HE in Australia will be decimated. But isn’t it likely that the Australia government (which, compared to the US, seems to be managing this crisis in a considered and non-partisan way) will step in with a significant financial package to get Australian university through a downturn in international enrollments?Report
Thanks for clarifying Alastair. In fact I mean to include even one-party states like China in my generalization so perhaps I should have said “across the political spectrum” as even one-party states have a (intra-party) political spectrum.Report
JTD – I can’t say what the Australian government will do but I know, from the emails going around at my work, that our university, and many others, are very worried about the situation, and would not be able to continue without either very significant aid from the government, or else significant cuts, without foreign students, and there is also significant worry about a decline in enrollment of domestic students in the next year. (For demographic reasons, there is already expected to be a several year “slump” in domestic enrollment over the next few years in Australia, and no expectation that the lost revenue would be made up by the government, as far as I can tell.)
Some parts of the government here have been managing well, but that is more despite, than because of, the federal government and the Trump-lite Liberal party leadership. So far as I can tell, there is no indication that the Liberal party will step up and provide more funds to higher education, and as they have a large majority and no need for an election for a few years, I don’t see great reason for hope here.Report
Also relevant about the similar situation in the UK:
(I don’t know if the gov’t of the UK will come up with money for the universities, but the Tory gov’t there has been reducing government support for some time, so I’d hate to hold my breath, especially outside the few “top” universities.)Report
What U of Arizona did was downright the wrong and immoral thing to do regardless of their concerns about the pandemic and thus they should cancel their decision as soon as possible. If you send an official funded offer, that is an official funded offer. They may consider admitting no one in the next year instead of retracting their funded offers. The fact that the offer has an obscure proviso concerning available funding does not prevent U of Arizona’s behavior from amounting to a failed promise. They will definitely pay for this; their name is severely blemished. The only way I can think of for their good is that they compensate their mistake by canceling their decision in question as soon as possible, though they may have already anticipated the responsibilities they will face up to. They should have found other ways before doing the wrong and immoral thing and they may not be excused for it due to the pandemic. Otherwise many will excuse themselves for similar wrong and immoral acts due to their own circumstances and this will create an avalanche of immoralities during already difficult times. I invite everyone reading this event, perhaps it is even a moral responsibility for many, to send a considered email to the Provost and Dean of the Graduate College of the University of Arizona so that they may realize that they should cancel this decision.Report
I don’t think it was immoral at all. You have to make cuts somewhere and, to be honest, this isn’t that big of a cut. This effects maybe 5-8 students, and they very likely all have offers available elsewhere. This won’t blemish U of A’s name at all, since this is the result of an unforeseen disaster.Report
There was another and rightful way to make cuts. They should have admitted no students next year instead of going back on their promise. They have chosen to damage the vulnerable ones as it will create the least trouble for them. As for blemishing, I am sorry that a long-prestigious university and department gets blemished but this is how they are naturally paying for their mistake unless they cancel their decision.Report
“They should have admitted no students next year instead of going back on their promise.”
What does that mean? Isn’t un-admitting a student going back on the promise in exactly the same way?Report
I think Graduate Student means they should reduce the number of offers (perhaps to 0) they make for Fall 2021 to compensate for budgetary issues, rather than rescind the offers for Fall 2020.Report
Yes, I mean exactly as Another Grad Student explained.Report
I am pretty sure that you’re the only one who thinks U of A is blemished because of this. But Wallace is right that this effects more than 5-8 grad students, as I originally suggested. Anyway, I again see no problem with U of A’s actions here. Though, perhaps it would have been better to instead (or additionally!) drastically reduce the beauracracy. There are so many pointless jobs that waste money (diversity officers, etc.) that can be cut.Report
“This [a]ffects maybe 5-8 students” – surely many more than that. It looks like it’s across the whole Graduate School, not restricted to Philosophy.Report
Universities censured by the AAUP still get faculty, students… Blemishes on universities don’t last.
“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.”
I’m sure the bylaws of the university say something about this, but I’m genuinely wondering: what if the philosophy department, indeed all departments affected by this, stood together and refused to enact this policy?
(I’m overly suspicious whenever someone with power refuses to accept responsibility for choosing to follow a policy that affects those with less power.)Report
What would refusing to enact it look like?
The department chair or director of graduate programs could refuse to send you a letter noting that your offer has been revoked. But then you’d be in for a rude awakening when you showed up on campus without a stipend and possibly with a tuition bill from the university.
They could submit the relevant forms to the registrar, financial aid, and payroll offices that they normally would, but your tuition waiver would not be applied and your stipend would not be paid. Departments don’t do these things directly – they go through the various university offices whose operations they do not control.
So it’s hard to see how a mere refusal would work. The faculty could engage in more drastic action, like a strike, but it’s not clear to me that would be a warranted reaction.
I understand how devastating this is to the admitted students and the bad incentives it creates for future admits. But I don’t understand the seemingly unreflective certainty about what the right thing to do here is. Yes, this is devastating. But it seems likely that whatever financial decisions the university makes will be devastating to someone. None of us expect to have the rug pulled out from under our plans and expectations like this. I don’t know the specific financial decisions Arizona or other universities are facing. But it’s not obvious to me that it’s wrong to prioritize the needs of, and promises made to, existing faculty, staff, and students over those of recent admits.Report
“What would refusing to enact look like?” That’s a good question I don’t have a good answer to, and I welcome serious suggestions.
Two of the possible answers you spell out, however, betray your uncharitable interpretation of the point of my original question.
I was expressing concern over the fact that tenured professors were acquiescing to what they thought was a harmful policy. I wondered whether a department- or university-wide refusal by tenured faculty to enact the policy would do anything. You helpfully wondered what refusing would look like.
Or so I thought. Apparently, yours was a rhetorical question, perhaps asked and answered in order to show me and others what a silly question I asked, or what a silly idea animated my question. For you immediately offer two scenarios that fall ridiculously short of preventing the harm I was so clearly talking about. These are followed by suggesting one of the most drastic solutions: a strike.
What you’re saying is, “Here are some obviously, wildly unsatisfactory ways of refusing to enact the policies. So, there’s probably no way of refusing to enact the policies.”
The charitable conclusion for me to draw is that you asked and answered your question for a purpose other than engaging in a good-faith discussion, because I can’t see how the argument you set out takes my question seriously.
None of this, though, is to belittle the questions you ask after your merely rhetorical response to me. How can we be certain that the policy is wrong? Are we sure it’s wrong to prioritize commitments to existing faculty, staff, and students? These are great questions that deserve serious discussion.Report
I realize that tone is difficult to convey, but my intention was not to be snarky or superior. I listed those options not in an attempt to belittle, but because those are literally the only things that I could imagine “refuse” would look like. You think these are uncharitable suggestions because they would not prevent the harm to the prospective students. But the point of my answer was to say that I can’t imagine any form of “refusal to enact” that would have any hope of preventing that harm. The university does not require any compliance on the part of departments in order to not pay people, so a refusal to comply won’t cause the university to actually pay those students.
Your reply suggests that you also have difficulty imagining a concrete form of refusal that would have the desired effects. Perhaps you think it’s too hasty to give up on the idea, but at some point the failure to identify such a form of refusal should cause you to give up your initial hypothesis that refusal is an (effective) option in this scenario.
I think the general principle animating your post is a good one that is often overlooked, and I share your reflexive suspicion of ‘I had no choice’ claims for those following policies from above. Often we do have the choice to refuse and, even if we’re justified in complying we should acknowledge that it is a choice. I just don’t think this is one of those situations.Report
I see now that I was wrong to accuse you of snark. Sorry about that.
Thanks for your reply. You make good points.Report
What are the odds that University of Arizona admins took themselves down to the salary of a typical graduate assistant and gave up their benefits to try and save the university some money? How come a crisis means outright betrayal to grad students’ futures without affecting the provost’s cable plan?Report
UA has about $5 million tied up in just the football and basketball coach.Report
I feel for the students affected by this, but I think this is kind of small potatoes in terms of unwelcome financial decisions by colleges and universities that are likely coming. I suspect that the top-tier private schools (Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, etc.) and top-tier public schools (UVa, UNC, Michigan, etc.) will be OK, but everyone below that level will be hurting. We’re already seeing a steady stream of small, lesser-known private colleges go under, and I bet some smaller state schools or branch campuses will join them. Large, reasonably good state schools like Arizona won’t be in danger of closing, but they will be facing very hard financial situations that will lead to previously unthinkable cuts to money for faculty, staff, and grad students. In some cases this might be due to mismanagement on the part of an individual school, but I think that mostly it’s a product of the larger situation that is beyond the control of individual institutions, so they shouldn’t be judged too harshly.
The president of my fairly large regional state university announced this week in the university senate that we would indeed have enough money to keep paying staff through the rest of the semester. I had no idea that things were so bad that that was even a worry. So, if schools are weighing whether to keep paying, say, their department secretaries or rescind funding offers to incoming grad students, you can see why grad students lose out.Report
This is exactly my sentiment. Do the students affected by this decision have a legitimate complaint against Arizona? Of course they do. But lets keep things in perspective here.
The imminent recession is almost certainly going to devastate the job prospects of contingent faculty members across the country. My own (not-super-prestigious, public) university has committed to not renewing the contracts of a significant proportion of VAPs, Lecturers, and Adjuncts, and I expect that many universities will soon follow suit, if they haven’t already. These people will now be forced to scramble to find other positions late in the academic year, in a job market already flooded with applicants and now further truncated by swaths of hiring freezes and evaporated TT job lines. If they succeed in these efforts, they’ll face an absolutely brutal job market next year; for many of them, the chances of securing a career in philosophy have effectively evaporated overnight.
Frankly, I’m more worried about contingent faculty members in this dire situation, some of whom might have otherwise had decent job prospects (insofar as that is possible these days!), than I’m disturbed by the admittedly awful plight of the prospective graduate students affected. That’s not to say, of course, that I’m not worried about these prospectives, or that I don’t feel for them. I really, really do; again, they have been treated shoddily by Arizona and their resentment is certainly justified. But at the risk of insensitivity let me just say that it’s a little surreal that we’re discussing things like the impact that this decision will have on Arizona’s reputation, rather than the probably huge number of people who will now have to exit the profession (beyond, say, advising them to maybe switch to a career in software design instead).Report
I think comparing the plight of the admitted students and the fact that some contingent faculty will lose their jobs is not justified, given that there is a failed promise in the former case while there is no such promise in the latter. If you are a contingent faculty with no tenure, you do not have any promise: everyone knows that you may (unfortunately indeed) lose your job if circumstances go reasonably bad but perhaps nobody has heard of a funding offer being retracted. This is already why one single event made huge news. Probably many universities are firing contingent staff nowadays. But U of A did something unheard of and immoral and wrong. You are not putting things in perspective; you are letting your personal perspective of a faculty weigh more than others on the issue. This is unfair. Further, what U of A did may potentially plug the entire admissions process, leading the students to accept one offer hastily and then go back on it once they get better offers because one actor has just broken a strong promise and disrespected the rules of a system which is based on the trust of all in all. Please be fair in your judgment.Report
This seems exactly backwards to me. Contingent faculty have an established relationship with the university, while admitted graduate students do not. Maybe there is some verbiage with the form of a promise in one case and not in the other, but I suspect that many contingent faculty have *some* sort of verbal suggestion that they are likely to be employed in the next term, whether or not it has the same promissory form.Report
This “contingency” and the fact that they are the first to go in a crisis is exactly what is so awful about the plight of contingent faculty. I mean, maybe *legally* the decision to rescind the funding offers of graduate students is on more shaky footing, since universities are explicit about the shitty situation of contingent faculty. I don’t know. Imagine you are in your late 30s/early 40s, you have found some kind of “permanent” academic position—but your contract is year-to-year (this is extremely common). You have a family, maybe, and have been working at this university for a decade. Now the university does not renew your contract, and you have no job, no hope of a job in philosophy, given how the job market looks now and for the near future. This person is worse off than a potential graduate student who should probably think twice about getting a PhD in any case (it’s not a competition, but graduate students often have tunnel vision, focusing on the injustices done to graduate students, and rarely pause to consider how their universities are exploiting all kinds of people.). Maybe you can criticize them for staying in this precarious situation for so long, but people often don’t have a lot of other options … I don’t think “he/she should have known! That’s the nature of contingent employment!” is an appropriate response. We should be working to make sure that these people get more security in exchange for the essential work that they do at their various universities.Report
My institution recently non-renewed several tenure-track assistant professors, and is looking at eliminating entire units (essentially in order to get rid of tenured professors. A Dean rather stupidly directly stated that this was the reason). I feel terrible about Arizona’s action, but I fear this will be microscopic potatoes soon.Report
You are meaning that the wrong act your university did justifies the shameful act of U of A, right? So why to bring up the issue at your institution? It may be just an anecdote bearing very lightly on the issue but as one wrong act does not justify another, what you wrote is almost irrelevant. What U of A did was wrong, immoral, shameful, unforgettable for decades–this stands.Report
You might want to cool it with the borderline ad hominem attacks. You are not making your points in effective ways.Report
Ad hominem attack? I did not even know you. What I mean is that some people here are bringing up irrelevant or almost irrelevant points to justify a failed promise in an unprecendented way. “My wife lied to me terribly because it is difficult times. So U of A can fail a promise in an unprecedented way and can potentially choke up the entire system.” Sorry, but this was the structure of your argument. I say that we should unite on a fact: What an actor, a strong one indeed, of the graduate admissions process did was wrong and nobody should do the same mistake again. This is commonsense on which everyone should unite so that no other actor can dare to do the same mistake. Second, this act’s being small potatoes does not justify it either. (I do not know, by the way, whether it is small potatoes. But I know that we should not say that the great evils are ahead so that we should accept the lesser evils. I do not say that you mean this but it can be interpreted in this way, which will encourage others to damage the vulnerable.)Report
Admits themselves haven’t been blowing the issue out of proportion, if that’s what you think is happening. The blog storm from uninvolved third parties is what’s responsible for this broader discussion on who-has-it-worse.
None of us are asking for universities to fire department staff to get our funded offers back. What’s more interesting/important about this issue is the unprecedented failed promise, as another commenter pointed out. And I do think the discussion here has been worthwhile mostly re: where do we go from here? How should students respond to offers going forward? How should universities extend offers? Can anything be done after failed negotiations between departments and respective grad schools (likely not)?Report
Especially at state schools, reducing incoming class sizes is a pretty unavoidable consequence of efforts to extend degree and funding timelines for current graduate students. Most departments at my university, for example, have a pretty fixed year-to-year budget for graduate student funding. Senior graduate students finishing up is what opens the funds for the new cohort. So it’s a zero-sum game: another year of funding to a current graduate worker is a year of funding that’s not available for a new admit. In some cases, the university as a whole might smooth out shortfalls, but my university has lost tens of millions of dollars in the last few weeks and the state budget has imploded.
So we’re not just talking about incoming admits vs. institutional stability, but we’re talking about a lesser-of-two-evils situation between screwing current graduate workers and screwing prospective admits. There’s no good answer here. I think it’s in most university’s interests to keep their experienced graduate workers around and make sure they complete versus leaving them without funding so they can admit a new cohort. As one of these people, I *want* to say it’s more than self-interest that makes me take that priority, but who knows. And I think shrinking incoming classes should be happening anyway. But not like this!Report
As you said in your last words, this is not shrinking; this is breaking a strong promise, on which the entire system of graduate admissions process is based. I am sorry but your perspective is prioritizing your particular situation and neglecting the core of the issue which is a promise made to the admitted students is broken, an event which is hardly heard of. So your comparison is not fair.Report
Global pandemics are also hardly heard of. It’s not obvious that there’s any breakdown in the social order if this sort of event results in some broken promises, particularly to people who have not established relationships yet.Report
Like, not to strawman too hard, but I didn’t think there were any actual humans who are this Kantian.Report
At UNC, Chapel Hill we remain fully committed to, and funded for, all accepted students. We are also prepared to offer regular funding to waitlisted students if that is necessary to hit our originally projected entering class size.Report
Thank you for reporting this. It’s also been reported in the applicants group that CUNY, Emory, and OSU will not make new offers off their waitlists this cycle.Report
At CUNY, but not in the admissions loop. Information given to us as recently as 4-8-20 was that the question of whether applicants from waitlists will be offered a place is unsettled. There has been no unequivocal CUNY-wide directive from the administration on this matter. It may indeed turn out as reported on that applicants group on FB, but it would be best for those on the waitlist still considering CUNY to discuss this directly with the admissions director.Report
A few of my fellow admits pointed this out elsewhere: the offer letter from the department (unsure if the relevant administrative unit at Arizona makes a concurrent offer which supersedes the language in the department letter — if so, I have yet to see it) reads:
“The arrangement described above (teaching one semester your first year and being on a non-teaching Fellowship the other semester) pertains only to 2020-21. Contingent upon the annual availability of funding, effective in 2021-2022 through 2024-2025, you are guaranteed teaching for both semesters.”
So it seems like the contingency clause only kicks in after the first year fellowship offer, which is offered without condition. It also appears that the Council of Graduate Schools’ guidance on its April 15 resolution is that “If an offer of financial support is made prior to April 15, applicants have until April 15 to accept it and the program should honor that commitment through April 15.” See: https://cgsnet.org/april-15-resolution
I have no horse in this race anymore, as I’ve declined the now effectively non-offer, and am fortunate to have a few other options. But more for the benefit of my fellow admits, I’m curious to know what people think about the legality of this move given the above wording, and whether Arizona would be violating the CGS resolution by pulling this off.Report
I’m happy someone has mentioned this. From what I can tell, there is no contingency “escape clause” which applies to 2020-2021 funding in my offer letter. Ultimately, I don’t think it makes a legal difference. I don’t have any legal expertise, but others have suggested here and elsewhere that offers can be rescinded until they’re accepted, regardless of such contingency clauses. But I think it’s worth noting that the Arizona administrators probably aren’t giving accurate information to the philosophy department.
I agree, though, that this seems to me to constitute a violation of the April 15 resolution. It’s also perhaps worth noting that the offer letter concludes by explicitly stating a commitment to the April 15 deadline:
“In accordance with the Council of Graduate Schools’ (CGS) resolution, you may consider other offers of financial support until the April 15 deadline, but any decision after April 15 is an obligation that you are expected to honor. Likewise, we will honor this offer until the April 15 deadline, after which point it will be rescinded unless you are informed in writing that the deadline for a decision has been extended.”
But again, I don’t have the relevant expertise, so I don’t know how significant this is.Report
Generally, unaccepted offers can be revoked at any time. But someone who has reasonably, detrimentally relied on a promise may have a claim in promissory estoppel (rather than breach of contract) if the promise is not honored. So if an admitted student detrimentally relied on Arizona’s promise to keep the offer open until April 15 (detrimentally relied on it, say, by rejecting other offers), and if the promise really doesn’t contain any caveat about funding, there could be liability. So long as the Arizona admit were ultimately accepted somewhere, though, proving damages might be difficult: you’d only be able to recover the difference in value between attending Arizona and attending wherever else you end up, and proving the monetary value of those differences seems quite difficult. Maybe a difference in stipends would be recoverable, or a difference in moving costs. And, in many states promissory estoppel is a somewhat disfavored doctrine, so courts might be reluctant to find the reliance reasonable–that is, courts hostile to promissory estoppel claims might think that the person who relies on the promise without accepting it, given that it could have been accepted, should bear the risk of later revocation–even despite the fact that such reliance is customary among applicants.
It’s not clear to me that the CGS resolution would change this. The resolution would not be legally enforceable at all unless it represented some negotiated bargain between parties who each made a promise to the other in exchange for the other’s promise. And, even if it were (if it were found to be some kind of enforceable contract between CGS and the participating universities), students wouldn’t be given a right to sue under it unless there were a manifestation of the parties’ intent to give students that right. I’m not sure that any such manifestation exists.
Anyway, these are pretty rough thoughts–I’m sure I’m missing something. (Don’t rely on this!)Report
As there is no provision for recovery of attorney fees in the offer and none is likely as a matter of state law, a lawsuit makes no sense at all. Except for someone wealthy enough not to even care whether the person receives funding. The CGS resolution is of no legal significance here because the student has no standing to enforce it, assuming (which is false) that is a contract.Report
Bowling Green is proceeding normally with no expected changes to the number of offers or to their amount.Report
The actions of the administrators at the University of Arizona are unconscionable. However, before we go ahead and decide to blackball the philosophy department, let’s try to remember that, after the admitted students who had their funding shamefully withdrawn, the faculty and graduate students at UA are the second biggest losers in this. (Full disclosure: I received my PhD from UA some years ago.)Report
Syracuse is proceeding as normal with respect to grad admissions.Report
The University of British Columbia is proceeding as normal with respect to grad admissions. We will honour all our offers and we will continue to go down the wait list to make offers as needed. Please let me know if you have any questions.Report
The University of British Columbia is proceeding as normal with respect to grad admissions – we will honour all offers and go down the wait list as needed. Please contact me if you have any questions.Report
FSU is also proceeding as normal with respect to grad admissions. Outstanding offers will be honored.Report
Well, insofar as Arizona’s philosophy department knew, things were proceeding normally there as well. They were informed about the decision that very evening.Report
As a member of the Arizona philosophy department, I would like to apologize for the tone-deaf and transparently insincere comment above made by one of our administrators.Report
FWIW, I think it’s important to not fault the Arizona philosophy department here. Those of us who have done any administrative work know that sometimes edicts are handed down that must be complied with even though the folks making the edicts seem to have no conception of how they affect real people, undermine credibility, etc.Report
This is a question for Stewart Cohen and other members of Arizona Phil. dept.:
Why did you, as all the faculty of the Philosophy department, not think of informing the waiting students about the impending doom before carrying out the order? (I assume that this will carry no risk for any particular faculty member as it would be a collective act.)Report
If you look at the email the dept sent to applicants (Update 2), you’ll see that they had no advance warning that this was coming.Report
“Why did you, as all the faculty of the Philosophy department, not think of informing the waiting students about the impending doom before carrying out the order?”
Are you suggesting that all faculty at all departments should have started e-mailing admitted students in early March warning them that there might be financial fallout from the emerging crisis? (I did consider doing this, but I still haven’t, because Texas A&M has not told me anything about specific changes in plans for the fall, and I don’t know what sort of warning would be helpful.)Report
I was suggesting that, as soon as the faculty of the Phil. Dept. got the email from the administration about the financial fallout of Arizona, they should have let the waiting students know about it so that the students could accept the offer right away. But it seems that the administration retracted the funding offer and then informed the Phil. faculty that they retracted the funding. So, if the faculty were not aware that this would happen and if they had no clue about the impending doom, they cannot be accused.
But interestingly, some thoughtful faculty are commenting here, declaring that they will follow the same route with Arizona. (Thanks for this.) How could they know it if the administration of Arizona did not let its faculty know about it before? Maybe those commenting faculty (mostly graduate directors) have corresponded with their administration and learned that their administration will not follow the same path as Arizona.
Then, perhaps the best advice for the applicants who could not still accept an offer is that they write to their graduate directors, asking that the director write to the administration for reassurance that the university will not be following Arizona. In this way, students will be relieved of the anxiety; the faculty will not be condemned in the following few days; the system will function as normal.
But there may also be a risk in doing this: Administrations of individual universities, when they receive such an email from the Philosophy faculty, asking for reassurance, this may help normalize the awful thing Arizona did or this may make the administration realize that they could do similarly so as to make cuts. What do you think? Is this good advice for the benefit of all?Report
The Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has informed our applicants that we will not be admitting anyone from our waitlist. To be clear—and to avoid inspiring further anxiety—this was a decision we made within our department, not because of any administrative edict or budgetary constraints. We had an unusually high acceptance rate this year, and so have already reached the target size for our incoming class. We couldn’t see ourselves admitting anyone further off our waitlist next week, so we decided to announce that now, in hopes that it allows the people on our waitlist to make other acceptance decisions as soon as possible. In these times of uncertainty, we figured it was better to give people information as early as possible so they could move decisively.
We still have a few admissions offers outstanding, and are dearly hoping those folks will join our program. All of the offers we made—both accepted and as yet unaccepted—are still good, along with their guarantees of financial support.
If any other departments find themselves in a similar fortunate position with respect to their acceptances, I would encourage them to consider a similar course.Report
I went to the UA’s website and noticed the incredibly large and well-stocked supply of VPs, AVPs, etc. on the Provost’s Council. If the University is interested in budget-cutting, are they planning on trimming those administrative sails a bit? Would surely save more money than grad funding (which subsidizes undergraduate teaching). Also, I looked up the spokesperson’s bio on Arizona (Chris Sigurdson), and really savored the irony that his most-requested presentation is “How to Turn a Crisis into a Fiasco.”Report
It’s interesting to read The Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed, as well as economic and other news. There is a high probability that F2F classes will not happen in the fall. Many endowments have been slashed by the crisis in the markets. Intenational students are not likely to show up in the fall. Many state budgets have been delayed and states are operating on emergency budgets. States won’t even know their tax revenues until July 15. States are already projecting large operating deficits. Unemployment is projected to reach levels not seen since the Great Depression. Many families are suddenly not able to afford sending their children to college. Many high school students have already indicated they will delay going to college. College recruitment and admission processes have shut down. Retention is projected to collapse.
So, what do you think you’re doing in September?Report
I am an international incoming grad student. I have one funded offer of admission in hand, along with being placed on two waitlists, one of which is particularly better than the one to which I am admitted. Therefore I have not accepted the single offer in my hand yet and am waiting for that better waitlist.
Now, what do you think? What should I do right now? Should I accept the offer over the waiting list or should I wait for the result of that better waitlist? Second, do you think that I can matriculate this Fall 2020? Is there anything that I should be doing to assure that I can matriculate in Fall 2020? What are the scenarios for both about the waitlist and about the subsequent process of matriculation? Many thanks for your helpful answers.Report
I don’t have any helpful answers – nobody does. Nobody knows what Fall 2020 is going to look like academically. Anybody who tells you otherwise is guessing. You have to make your own choices here.Report
You can email the point of contact at the school where you are waitlisted and politely ask whether they know the likelihood that they will go to the waitlist. They will tell you the truth, though the truth might well be ‘we’re not sure’.
Whether you can matriculate in the fall will mostly depend on whether travel is permitted between your country and wherever you’re meant to attend. That decision is not within the gift of anyone in academic philosophy.Report
You saw what happened with Arizona, so you know that your current offer can be rescinded until the point when you accept it. So make your decision with that in mind.Report
Ridiculous that people are taking “this is how the world works” tack. It’s simply terrible advice to take an offer in hand immediately, just in case a budget crisis or pandemic strikes that cripples a state university which hasn’t retracted an offer of acceptance, I’m guessing, in decades. Does anyone really think that is the rational and responsible thing to do? If I wanted to work on Kant, I should just choose whatever program took me first? There is rational and reasonable risk tolerance, and tolerating the risk makes sense if it’s such a low risk, and the prospective benefits of working with a top Kant scholar on my waitlist so high.
People get off spouting the “get everything in writing” BS because it gives them an assured air of wisdom and pragmatism. But it’s just plain wrong, and it’s also wrong for people to capitalize on this situation to trot out these supposed lessons of wisdom after offering only a fig leaf of sympathetic words.Report
I think I agree – but there is a big difference between “take an offer in hand immediately, just in case there is a pandemic” and “take an offer in hand immediately, given that there actually is a pandemic”.Report
No one being pragmatic here is “getting off.”Report
Looks like Univ. of Arizona is in real financial trouble. Maybe this isn’t a surprise for any public school in a red state, which typically undervalues and underfunds education. Good luck, everyone.
California is pretty blue and has been underfunding the UC system since Jerry Brown was governor.Report
Yes, that’s a general trend in the US, though keep in mind that Cali has more public universities to support than ANY other state in the union. My point was that the hit to public schools in red states is likely to be worse, because of their extra-special attitude toward education.Report
Not looking good for Wisconsin either…