Ky. Voices: UK graduate studies endangered by cutbacks; fellowships cut, administration mum on plans

The University of Kentucky is the primary graduate degree-granting institution in the commonwealth. It offers advanced study in 90 program areas, with doctoral degrees in 61 fields, master's degrees in 120 fields and five specialist degrees.

More than 5,800 graduate students per year are enrolled in these degree programs — almost one third of the total student enrollment. The university is a magnet for ambitious Kentucky natives to obtain high-quality graduate education in-state.

Here, they make fundamental contributions to the commonwealth in the research, education and service missions of the university. Graduate students are teachers, scholars, mentors, parents, volunteers and Wildcat supporters. Their ability to study in-state makes it more likely that their skills, abilities and extra lifetime earnings will remain in Kentucky following graduation.

The current administration at UK gives the appearance of planning largely unspecified, but seemingly dramatic, reductions in support for graduate education.

Despite repeated requests at open forum meetings with administrators, few details have been given about the areas and magnitude of the budget cuts affecting support for graduate students. However, what little information is available is chilling.

For example, one funding source, named after a beloved former dean of the graduate school, Daniel Reedy (Reedy Quality Achievement Fellowships) will apparently be cut substantially. Previously, this add-on fellowship, which was intended to assist in recruiting outstanding applicants, provided three years of supplemental funding amounting to $9,000 over the award period in addition to primary support from a teaching assistantship, research assistantship or fellowship.

According to an email from the graduate school dated Oct. 6, starting in the next recruiting cycle, this award will be available to admitted graduate students for only one year — a 66 percent reduction.

Additionally, despite numerous requests from faculty at meetings with the UK administration, no information has been provided about the potential level of cuts to teaching assistantships, which provide the bulk of support for current graduate students.

If reductions in teaching assistantships approximate those to the Reedy Quality Awards, the impact on the ability of the university to provide quality undergraduate instruction in key areas across the colleges will be devastating.

Given commitments to provide continuing support for graduate students in good academic standing, if the reductions in overall levels of teaching assistantship support approximate 20 percent or more, many graduate programs may be unable to admit any new students for fall, 2013.

Our concern is not about obtaining additional scarce resources from the commonwealth for faculty salaries or construction projects. Rather it is about appropriately allocating existing funding within the university.

As directors of graduate studies, with collectively near two decades in these roles, we are appalled that the administration has paid so little attention and provided so little public information about these consequential cuts to graduate education.

Do we really want to deny the citizens of the commonwealth access to education that leads to stable careers in engineering, science, agriculture and public service?

Do we really want the commonwealth's most motivated young people to go elsewhere for their advanced degrees, and take their industry and ambition with them?