The statement that follows was approved by the American Studies Association National Council on November 3, 2005. This statement builds upon the standards advocated by the American Association of University Professors in their Statement on Graduate Students, but has been modified to address the more specific conditions of graduate study in American Studies and related fields.
As the largest professional organization in its discipline and as an organization with broad interdisciplinary reach, the American Studies Association has a unique responsibility to establish the standards of professional conduct and institutional support in graduate programs in American Studies and related fields.as been formulated to address the complex reality of graduate study and to foster sound academic policies in graduate programs in American Studies and related fields.
The following statement sets forth recommended standards that pertain to graduate students in their roles as advanced students, future colleagues, and teachers within the university. Graduate students are not only engaged in an advanced course of study, they are often also in programs of professional academic training and hold teaching and research assistantships. As graduate assistants, they carry out many of the functions of faculty members and receive compensation for these duties. The statement that follows has been formulated to address the complex reality of graduate study and to foster sound academic policies in graduate programs in American Studies and related fields.
The responsibility to secure and respect the conditions conducive to graduate study is shared by all members of the university community. Every department of American Studies and every college or university has a duty to develop policies and procedures that safeguard against the infringement of the rights of graduate students as outlined in this statement. These standards will not only enhance the educational and professional development of graduate students, but will support the freedom of thought and expression so vital to the intellectual life of the university.
Each program in American Studies has a responsibility to make these standards available to continuing and prospective graduate students and to all faculty members either by inclusion in the program description or by public posting in the department.
1. Graduate Students have the right to academic freedom. While graduate students are responsible for learning the content of any course of study for which they are enrolled, they should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and should be encouraged by faculty to exercise their freedom of discussion, inquiry and expression. Graduate students’ freedom of inquiry is necessarily qualified by their still being learners in the profession; nonetheless, their faculty mentors should afford them latitude and respect as they decide how they will engage in research and teaching.
2. Graduate students have the right to be free from illegal or unconstitutional discrimination, or discrimination according to, but not limited to, age, gender, disability, race, religion, political affiliation, national origin, marital status, or sexual orientation, in admissions and throughout their education, employment, and placement. This right extends not only to discrimination in admissions and hiring, but also in the right to study and work in an environment free of intimidation and harassment.
3. Graduate Students are to be considered members of an academic community, and as such, they have the right to collegial and respectful treatment by faculty members and other students alike.
4. Graduate Students are entitled to the protection of their intellectual property rights, including recognition of their participation in supervised research and their research with faculty, consistent with the standards of attribution and acknowledgement relevant to the field of study. This includes the right to co-authorship in publications involving significant contributions of ideas from the student. The student should receive first authorship for publications which are comprised primarily of the creative research and writing of the student when consistent with the conventions of the field.
5. Graduate students have the right to confidentiality in their communications with faculty and administrators of their program. Discussion of the students’ performance among faculty should be of a professional nature and should be limited to the students’ academic performance and fitness as a graduate student and graduate instructor.
6. Graduate students should be free of reprisal for exercising any of these rights.
Standards Pertaining to Program and Institutional Support
7. Prospective and current graduate students should be fully informed on degree and program requirements. This includes a clear and regularly updated written statement on program requirements, as well as a clear and consistent articulation of the recommended preparations and procedures necessary for fulfilling those requirements. These requirements should be consistently applied, and if degree requirements are changed, students admitted under the old rules should be allowed to continue under those rules. If the program is discontinued, graduate students already admitted in the program should be allowed to complete their degrees. Students should also be told of acceptance and attrition rates in their program, funding possibilities, employment prospects, and the normative and average time of degree completion.
8. Graduate students should be assisted with the progress of their degrees through periodic assessments, appropriate and timely course offerings, faculty advisors in every step of their degree program, and adequate dissertation supervision.
9. Graduate students should be provided with a realistic assessment of funding opportunities by their program and institution upon admission and periodically thereafter as necessary. Programs should have clearly written policies regarding the distribution of financial and resource support, and these policies should be made public or be readily available upon request.
10. Graduate students should be allowed to participate in institutional governance at the program, department, college, graduate school, and university levels, and should be able to voice their opinions in matters of their interest.
11. Programs and departments are encouraged to support the professional development of graduate students through information on professionalization and the provision of conference and research expenses.
12. Graduate students have a right to mentorship and should be offered a fair notice of discontinuation of adviser relationship. If a graduate student’s dissertation or thesis supervisor departs from the institution, whenever possible, the student should be allowed to keep on working with that supervisor. If this is not possible, the program should make every effort to assist the student in finding alternative supervision.
13. Programs are encouraged to provide graduate students, especially those involved in instruction, with offices and work-spaces, computing and printing equipment, as well as access to copiers, subject to appropriate budgetary limits.
14. Graduate students should have access to their files and placement dossiers. If access is denied, graduate students should be able to ask a faculty member of their choice to examine their files and receive a redacted account, at the discretion of said faculty member. Graduate students should have the right to direct the addition or removal of materials from their placement dossiers.
15. Graduate students have the right to refuse duties and tasks irrelevant to their academic or professional program. This includes the right to request more appropriate assignments without jeopardizing financial aid, or teaching and research appointments.
16. American Studies and similar interdisciplinary programs are responsible for preparing their students for the risks and opportunities involved in obtaining interdisciplinary degrees. Such programs should also enhance their students’ placement opportunities by providing information and guidance in the relevant application procedures and professional standards of related disciplines.
Standards Pertaining to Teaching
17. Teaching assistants, faculty fellows, and research assistants should have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Administrations should honor majority requests by graduate students for union representation anywhere state legislation permits such activity. Graduate students should not suffer retaliation from administrators or faculty because of their activity and position on collective bargaining.
18. Graduate students should be furnished with terms of appointment and with clear guidelines of terms and conditions of their graduate student employment. Graduate students should have the right to grievance procedures in their program and institution that include impartial hearing committees.
19. The time that graduate students spend in teaching, grading, researching, or other graduate employment should be kept to the standard maximum of about twenty hours per week. Programs and institutions should offer compensation so that graduate student employees are not obligated to seek substantial employment elsewhere. Health and dental benefits should be included in any teaching, grading, research, or fellowship package.
20. Graduate Programs have the responsibility to train and properly supervise graduate student instructors in pedagogical methods. Graduate Student Instructors should have access to seminars on pedagogy and university teaching, and have the right to request that a member of the faculty observe, evaluate, and provide guidance on their teaching.
21. As a service to their own graduate students but also their profession, programs should recognize the adverse effects of relying on adjunct faculty. Although adjunct appointments can add significant dimensions to curricula and some individuals prefer adjunct appointments because of other commitments, the practice of hiring numerous adjunct faculty members year after year to teach the core courses of a program of undergraduate study undermines professional and educational standards and academic freedom. It is recommended that departments should establish an appropriate limit on the number of adjunct faculty members in relation to the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty members and of graduate student instructors. ii
i American Association of University Professors, “Statement on Graduate Students,” Policy Documents and Reports, 9th edition (Washington D.C., 2001) 268-270.
ii Modern Language Association, “MLA Statement on the Use of Part-Time and Full-Time Adjunct Faculty,” The MLA Guide to the Job Search: A Handbook for Departments and for PhDs and PhD Candidates in English and Foreign Languages, English Showalter, et al. (New York: The Modern Language Association, 1996) 138-9.