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My advisor has funds for me to use for research from his grant so that I don't have to teach in my final semester. Unfortunately my department is denying the request and forcing me to teach a course to be funded since they are low on teachers. 75% of other students are being allowed to use research funding in my department, and I am one of the 5 who is not being allowed. The reasoning is because of timing and a change of policy that once the department determined they were running low on instructors they started denying requests for research funding.

I have exhausted avenues within my department and have still been denied. I do have a lot of savings and could afford not to be funded at all. Honestly, I am tempted to deny teaching altogether. Of course I would not earn my 10-15K + health insurance + tuition benefit that I would get for research funding or teaching or being on the grant for research, but it is doable and honestly tempting to me right now. I am really upset about this.

I am going into my last semester and need time to finish my thesis, find a job, and everything else that comes with graduating. I simply do not have time to teach and have been counting on this funding from my advisor. I think it is completely ludicrous that the department is telling my advisor he cannot fund me using the grant money which was set aside for me.

Can you think of anything I can do to fight this? It seems both immoral and illegal to me. Should I contact the graduate school or the dean of students? Do I have any legal recourse for this? It just feels they are stealing the grant money from me because they won't allow my advisor to give me the grant money meaning I am forced to teach if I want to get paid.

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    You claim it is because they are "low on teachers". I'm thinking that there might be other reasons, including a requirement that every doctoral student teach at least one course since it is good for their career prospects. There are places with such a requirement.
    – Buffy
    Nov 6 '21 at 17:08
  • I am in the US. I am required to teach two courses in my program but I have taught 6-7 so far.
    – user93656
    Nov 6 '21 at 18:14
  • Thanks for everyone's input. I am just really tired and stressed. I just need to graduate and get out of here. It's been a tough semester with two close losses due to covid so there are definitely other factors at play.
    – user93656
    Nov 6 '21 at 18:22
  • Do you need a thesis credit to graduate? Rather than paying tuition, can you take a semester leave and work independently on your research? Nov 6 '21 at 19:02
  • Also, are there any student's who haven't fulfilled their teaching requirement who might be convinced to swap with you out of the goodness of their hearts? Nov 6 '21 at 19:18
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It seems both immoral and illegal to me...It just feels they are stealing the grant money from me

It is understandable that you are very upset at having been arbitrarily assigned additional work for no additional benefit. However, "immoral and illegal" is likely too far. It is highly unlikely that you were personally named in your advisor's grant. It is similarly unlikely that your contract stipulates that you are entitled to this grant money. Rather, it sounds like you and your advisor had a good-faith agreement that he would try to fund you from this grant, and it sounds like both of you tried to honor this. It is annoying that department rules are frustrating your agreement, but I would be very surprised if this was legally actionable. Even the morality may be less clear-cut than you imagine.

Honestly, I am tempted to deny teaching altogether. Of course I would not earn my 10-15K + health insurance + tuition benefit...but it is doable and honestly tempting to me right now.

Tuition is pretty expensive -- five figures at least. So, this could easily cost you $30K. I would suggest that is not worth it. Even for me, being busy, long past grad school, and financially comfortable, I would probably agree to teach a course in exchange for $30K.

Can you think of anything I can do to fight this?

I would start by recalibrating expectations. First, this is a fight you may lose. Second, this is an inconvenience, not a crime against humanity, and it is not worth "going nuclear" over this (i.e., avoid burning bridges or making threats). Third, you have very little leverage as a grad student.

Instead, I would discuss this with your advisor (or another trusted professor). If possible, estimate specific tasks that may have to be postponed or skipped due to your reduced availability. Do not lecture about legality or morality; instead, gently point out that a last-semester student is not really a good choice for a complicated teaching assignment.

  • If your advisor is on your side, they are probably much better positioned than you to find a work-around. If your advisor tries to help and fails, it is very unlikely that you will have more luck.
  • If your advisor does not want to get involved, they may at least be willing to give you feedback on your ideas about complaining to the dean's office or the graduate school.
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    Thank you for your input. I did look up and it looks like for me to pay the thesis credits in my final semester might only be 2K. I would definitely want to verify this though before going that route. My advisor has helped me bounce off ideas of how to get around this and talk with the department myself, but he doesn't seem willing to fight the department himself. I might just have to really minimize what I do for teaching and try to make it work. It just seems unlikely I can teach and graduate right now.
    – user93656
    Nov 6 '21 at 18:20
  • What's not clear cut about the morality? Nov 6 '21 at 19:10
  • Making reluctant grad students fill in during a shortage of teachers is not inherently immoral -- though there may be a larger pattern of wanton indifference toward the grad students' needs, in which case calling the department's actions "immoral" might be justified. But justified or not, approaching this as a question of "morality" or "immorality" is unlikely to be productive.
    – cag51
    Nov 6 '21 at 20:25
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This happened to me once. To make it worse, I was told I must teach the semester I did not want to, and I could not teach the semester I did want to.

You probably should not fight it. You do not have any leverage. Really the only action you can take is to complete your PhD a semester earlier than planned.

It's probably not illegal. It probably is unethical to prioritize the need for cheap labor over PhD student success.

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  • Thank you for your insights. I wish I could graduate early, but I am currently teaching the same course they want me to teach in the spring and I just haven't had time to write my thesis. I need to start prioritizing that over my teaching now for sure.
    – user93656
    Nov 6 '21 at 18:16
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    Why don't they have leverage? The OP can refuse to teach in which case the department will have to find someone else. Logistically, it might be easier for them to try to accommodate the OP now rather than scrambling to find a replacement if the OP decides not to work. Nov 6 '21 at 19:00
  • It is true. Although I don't want it to come to this, I can decline the TA funding when offered it officially closer to the spring semester. I may end up having to do that depending on how things go with my thesis in the next month and a half or so.
    – user93656
    Nov 6 '21 at 20:05

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