This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions &Answers

Published: December 2, 2004

Myron A. ("Mick") Thompson is associate provost and executive director of the Graduate School.

What is the Graduate School?
The Graduate School is the primary locus for institutional coordination and support of graduate education and training at UB. The Graduate School and the academic officer position of dean of the Graduate School, were formally created in 1939 by the faculty and administration as statutory entities at UB. While the Graduate School has existed for more than 65 years, its scope of responsibilities has expanded over that period as the size and complexity of UB have increased significantly in the areas of post-baccalaureate education, research and training. The Graduate School encompasses those programs of study and research leading to advanced degrees or certificates that have been designated as graduate programs in applicable by-laws, as well as the faculty and administrative officers at UB engaged in the conduct of those programs. As stated in the "Charter and Bylaws of the Graduate School," its broad objectives are threefold:

  • Promotion and maintenance of excellence in graduate programs and in the scholarly and creative activities of graduate faculty and students.

  • Stimulation and promotion of interdisciplinary research and education.

  • Improvement and preservation of the academic environment within which graduate education and research occur.

The responsibility for maintaining excellence in graduate education lies principally with the Graduate Faculty, with the support of its administrative officers. It is the mission of the Graduate School to promote, facilitate and oversee the fruitful exercise of those faculty responsibilities. The Graduate School often is misperceived as solely an administrative office. In fact, it is far more than that. All Graduate Faculty and their academic officers across the institution are elements of the Graduate School and work in close partnership with the Office of the Graduate School, which represents their collective interests and serves their needs on a day-to-day basis. UB's graduate faculty participate in the formal governance and policy-making functions of the Graduate School through membership on the divisional and area committees of the Graduate School, the Graduate School Executive Committee, and, on occasion, through actions of the graduate faculty as a whole.

What services/programs do you offer?
The Graduate School provides a wide range of institutional programs and services to students, faculty and staff, as well as to external constituencies such as SUNY system administration, the New York State Education Department and the professional organizations that represent the graduate education community nationally and internationally. The Graduate School is charged by the graduate faculty with administering, in an unbiased, just and responsible manner, the wide range of institution-wide policies developed by the graduate faculty and other legitimate authorities that apply to graduate students. Since the dean of the Graduate School must recommend to the president the conferral of all degrees that are under the aegis of the Graduate School, considerable effort is invested by Graduate School staff in the services provided on behalf of graduate students to ensure that their individual needs are appropriately addressed and to enable the dean of the Graduate School to certify that all degree requirements have been met in the case of each individual student.

We also administer a number of programs of financial support for graduate students, including the Woodburn/Presidential Fellowship program and the Gilbert Moore Fellowship Program, both of which are locally funded; the Arthur A. Schomburg Fellowship program and the Graduate Educational Opportunity Program (GEOP), both of which are underwritten by special budget appropriations from the State of New York, and the federally funded "Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate" (AGEP) program.

Among the other services and programs we offer are the orientation program for new graduate students, the excellence in graduate teaching awards program, the Clifford C. Furnas scholar athlete award program, workshops and information sessions on various topics for faculty and students, and the graduate commencement ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Graduate School also is responsible for the management, at the institutional level, of all cases dealing with academic integrity violations, grievances and legal actions involving post-baccalaureate students, as well as employee grievances that are filed by state-supported teaching and graduate assistants represented by the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU). We work closely with the Office of SUNY Counsel, the SUNY Office of Employee Relations, our campus office of employee relations, the UB Office of Judicial Affairs, and others having expertise or an appropriate role to play in such matters.

The Graduate Student Recruitment Services (GSRS) area of the Graduate School provides a range of services and resources designed to better enable our college/schools to attract and enroll high-quality graduate students. We soon will be conducting a campus-wide survey of the current and potential users of GSRS services to determine how we can further strengthen and broaden the advice, support and resources that we provide in this key area.

Does the Graduate School have any input on graduate programs and/or curriculum issues?
Although UB's graduate degree and advanced certificate programs are developed and offered by the faculty, the Graduate School is involved in a number of ways with our graduate programs and curricula. We provide extensive advice and counsel to faculty and academic officers regarding the myriad policies, regulations and procedural requirements affecting academic programs and curricula that exist at the SUNY system administration and the state education department (SED) levels. The Graduate School is responsible for ensuring that all of our existing graduate degree and certificate programs, as well as campus proposals for the establishment of new graduate programs or the modification of existing programs, comply with SUNY and SED requirements. We formally endorse at the campus level and transmit to Albany, on behalf of the president and the provost, all such proposals. We also serve as the principal liaison with academic officers and staff at SUNY and SED in graduate program matters, and work aggressively to facilitate the approval of our action requests at those levels.

In addition, the Graduate School has significant input on academic program issues beyond the campus. For instance, we currently are working with SUNY and SED to streamline the graduate program proposal submission process and to move it to an electronic, from the current paper-based, format. We expect to achieve those objectives by the end of this academic year.

What does it mean to be a member of the Graduate Faculty? How does one achieve that distinction?
The conduct and quality of graduate education at UB are concerns shared by the Graduate Faculty, the dean of the Graduate School, and the deans of the various academic units within which it occurs. The Graduate Faculty is the superior authority in the establishment of graduate policy at the institutional level.

Membership in the Graduate Faculty is a privilege conferred upon those members of the faculty of UB and its affiliated institutions who have an active and continuing role in one or more of the degree programs offered under the aegis of the Graduate School. There are two categories of membership within the Graduate Faculty: Member (formerly referred to as senior member) and associate member, each with its own set of membership eligibility criteria as described within the By-Laws of the Graduate School. Members of the Graduate Faculty may serve as committee members or as major advisors for both master's and Ph.D. students, while associate members may serve as either committee members or as major advisors only for master's students and may not serve on Ph.D. dissertation committees in any capacity. Only members may participate in the governance of the Graduate School and may serve on the Graduate School's Executive, Divisional and Area committees.

As a result of a recent change in institutional practice, all tenured or tenure-track faculty at UB will automatically be appointed as members of the Graduate Faculty. The appointment of other UB faculty as either members or associate members in the Graduate Faculty is guided by eligibility criteria and a formal nomination and approval process described in the By-Laws of the Graduate School.

Your office oversees the SUNY AGEP program at UB. What is AGEP?
In a formal partnership ("alliance") with the other three SUNY university centers at Stony Brook, Albany and Binghamton, the Graduate School was extensively involved in securing, and we currently manage, UB's share of a major five-year grant from the National Science Foundation under the NSF's "Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate" (AGEP) program. That federally funded program is specifically designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who pursue graduate education through the doctoral degree in a science, engineering or mathematics discipline and subsequently secure faculty positions in those fields at the college/university level.

Our funds under this federal project provide support for certain graduate student recruitment efforts at the departmental level, including the costs of campus visits by prospective AGEP-eligible students. Our AGEP grant funds also are used to support UB's enrolled, AGEP-eligible graduate students through a variety of means, including book and educational expense allowances each semester, fellowship stipend supplements and travel funds to enable their attendance at professional meetings and conferences appropriate to their disciplines. We also have provided our AGEP students with a number of on-campus workshops dealing with such topics as identifying and working effectively with a faculty mentor and on coping with the stresses of graduate education as a student from an underrepresented group. The Graduate School provides ongoing individual advisement and guidance to UB's AGEP students and we also have just procured, with our AGEP funds, a limited number of laptop computers that we will be loaning, for year-long periods, to AGEP students on the recommendation of their faculty advisors. We expect to learn very soon whether the NSF will renew our SUNY AGEP project for another five years. Based on the reviews of our performance under the initial grant, we are optimistic concerning our prospects.

What's the biggest issue facing graduate education at UB?
Of the various issues facing graduate education at UB, the clear consensus among the Graduate Faculty is the inadequacy of our assistantship stipends, particularly for doctoral students. In most disciplines, our stipends are woefully inadequate and place us at a significant disadvantage in terms of our ability to recruit and retain graduate students of the highest quality. Our low stipend levels have broader negative effects than just the students we are able to attract, since prospective faculty members often view the quality of an institution's graduate students and the funding available to recruit graduate students as important elements in their decision to accept an offer of employment-or to even consider applying for employment at a particular institution.

National surveys suggest that the stipends of our state-supported teaching and graduate assistantship positions are, on average, at least $4,000-5,000 lower than those offered by many peer institutions. While there certainly are differences in stipend levels across disciplines, both nationally and at UB, it is an indisputable fact that the SUNY system as a whole-and the SUNY university centers, including UB in particular-are facing a major challenge in this area. If we truly aspire to excellence at the graduate level, we simply must address this chronic problem. The prospect that the state will provide the necessary additional resources to underwrite those badly needed stipend increases is remote at best. I believe the problem will largely have to be addressed at the campus level and will require the assignment of a higher priority than in the past among the many claims and requests for available institutional resources.

What question do you wish I had asked, and how would you have answered it?
What new activities and services do you envision the Graduate School providing in the future? Building on its earlier successful leadership in developing and introducing UB's online graduate application system (GradMit), the Graduate School soon will be implementing an electronic submission process for doctoral dissertations and master's theses. This new approach, in partnership with the University Libraries, will reduce the time, effort and costs associated with the processing and filing of traditional, paper-based dissertations and theses. At the same time, it will broaden the visibility of our graduate students and their faculty mentors through the electronic publication and international exposure of those scholarly works. We also expect the Graduate School to take a leadership role in the anticipated reinstatement of systematic and periodic reviews of our graduate programs, as well as in new institutional efforts to better coordinate, support and strengthen post-doctoral education and training at UB.