MIT limits NSF fellows
By Dave Watt
Dean of the Graduate School Frank E. Perkins '55 recently announced restrictions on the number of National Science Foundation Graduate Fellows permitted to begin attending MIT this fall. MIT schools and departments are scrambling to find the additional funds to support their NSF fellows.
Approximately half of 20 prospective mechanical engineering students have been told that they may not bring their fellowships to MIT, according to department chair David N. Wormley '62.
The School of Science will attempt to minimize the impact on incoming NSF fellows, but may have to turn people away in the future unless there is a policy change somewhere, according to dean Gene M. Brown. "We will certainly have to turn someone away, unless NSF . . . or central administration at MIT changes it mind. We're trying to negotiate [support for NSF fellows], but we can't make any guarantees."
The NSF fellowship program contributes $6000 to MIT as a "cost of education allowance," with the rest of the $20,800 12-month tuition supplied by the Institute.
According to Perkins, this balance is currently paid for out of the Institute General Fund. The new restrictions stem from a decision not to pay more than $2.9 million from the fund each year to support NSF fellows.
MIT would prefer the students to take positions as research or teaching assistants to make up for the cost of the program. But NSF regulations forbid universities from requiring participants to take on such jobs while they hold the fellowship.
Requiring fellows to become RAs or TAs would solve the funding problem, because their tuition could then be paid out <>
of employee benefits funds, explained Perkins. He added that the students might then receive an additional stipend as compensation for being required to take the position.
The NSF annually awards approximately 1000 three-year fellowships based on the results of a national competition. Fellows are given a stipend of $12,700 per year, while the university they attend is given a cost of education allowance of $6000. MIT had <>
208 NSF fellows attending during 1989-90, according to an internal memorandum from Perkins.
Perkins conceded that MIT's position on the fellowships is "playing hardball" with the NSF in hopes of making the foundation increase its cost of education allowance. He added that MIT instituted the quota because the NSF refused to increase the cost of education allowance or to allow MIT to require even a part-time RA or TA position.
The NSF is unlikely to change their policy of forbidding mandatory RA or TA service. According to Terence Porter, the division director of the NSF for Research Career Development, the word requirement is at the heart of the issue. "One of the most cherished features of the program is that the institution may not require services of fellows."
"Requirement is the key issue . . . an NSF fellow should have free choice of graduate institutions that they can attend. We're very concerned that if students are required to perform services, that has a long-term down side," he added.
The NSF is also not interested in raising the cost of education allowance. "The NSF offers its fellowship program, and it's funded at a level it thinks is appropriate," Porter said. Any additional funding will more likely go into increasing the number of students in the program, not for increasing the amount paid to universities, according to Porter.
The National Science Foundation was aware that MIT could take this action, and regards it as a purely internal matter, according to Dr. Raymond Bye, the director of the NSF Office for Legislative and Public Affairs. The NSF does not offer comments on tuition costs and allocation of resources within universities. The fellowship cost of education allowance will be reviewed this year before the NSF budget is sent to Congress, just as it has in years past, Bye said.