Don’t mischaracterize COLA

I first want to say that I appreciate Riley Brands’ sincere interest in the welfare of COLA graduate students as reflected in his Oct. 1 article on the graduate student task force. However, I think that his opinion on the task force was premature and presented facts in an order that led to frightening, but largely incorrect, conclusions. Because The Daily Texan is usually a trustworthy source of campus information, this created a minor panic among graduate students who were unaware of the task force or the issues that sparked its creation. I want to set some of those things straight, if only to reduce the burden for myself and other task force members who are now forced to rectify the misperceptions surrounding our proceedings.

The “inconsistent numbers” presented by COLA administrators when predicting future cuts should have tipped Brands off that he or his reporters needed to wait and follow up more before publishing. The decision to exclude “prying eyes” — which just means reporters from the Daily Texan, because task force members’ eyes have been quite prying — was made after the publication of Brands’ article and with input from graduate student members. Task force members are individually permitted to convey any information about the proceedings to anyone who asks, at our discretion. Many of us are formally or informally answering questions that our graduate student colleagues have. But because we have only met twice, there really isn’t much to say. The fact that we have had barely enough time to orient ourselves within the task force should be another sign that the Brands’ article was premature.

The most dangerous sentence being repeated from the article is that “cuts could eliminate a large number of jobs.” Graduate students have inferred from this that they may lose their teaching assistant positions despite being guaranteed funding when admitted to the college. COLA administrators have said multiple times, including at the meeting on which Brands reported, that funding offers and teaching assistantships that were presented in admissions letters will not be rescinded. Brands’ conclusion that cuts will lead to the “elimination of jobs” skews the context and implies that these cuts will lead to graduate students fighting for the few number of teaching assistant positions left. In reality, it seems that many of those reductions will be produced through smaller cohort sizes produced by admitting fewer graduate students in the future. While one might be rightfully disappointed that there will be fewer students entering COLA’s graduate programs, it is hardly as dire as current graduate students being put out on the street.

I would ask Brands and the editorial staff of the Daily Texan to take more care when rushing to publish their opinions about such delicate and important proceedings as the graduate student task force. I, for one, would prefer to work on preserving the rights and livelihoods of my colleagues without being mischaracterized in the press by outsiders — even well-intentioned ones.

— Justin Doran, religious studies doctoral student, in response to Editor-in-Chief Riley Brands’ Oct. 1 piece, which ran under the web headline “COLA’s closure of task force meetings to chill proceedings.” Doran wrote this letter before his appointment last Wednesday as task force spokesperson to the press.