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Tulane graduate students stunned after funding for summer fellowships dropped due to coronavirus

She was hoping to win a $5,000 grant that would allow her to work on dissertation research this summer, and hold her over until her next paycheck in the fall.

Dozens of Tulane University graduate students are joining skyrocketing unemployment numbers in Louisiana. Thursday night, many learned their next paycheck won’t come until August, as the university decided to cut Summer Merit Fellowships funding. 

Dena Lagomarcino, who is seeking a Ph D in sociology through Tulane, immediately put her car up for sale. Her last paycheck from Tulane came more than a week ago. 

“I literally put my car on Tulane Classifieds today because I can’t afford it,” said Lagomarcino. 

She was hoping to win a $5,000 grant that would allow her to work on dissertation research this summer, and hold her over until her next paycheck in the fall.

“So it’s (Summer Merit Fellowships) something that has always been funded for as long as we’ve been here, and that students look forward to so that we don’t have to worry about outside employment, or other funding, we can really just focus on our research,” she said. 

Thursday night, the University sent an email to all 66 PhD and Masters of Fine Arts students who applied for the competitive grants, informing them of the funding cuts. Tulane tells Eyewitness News that around 50 students are typically selected for the summer grants, which come in 3-thousand and 5-thousand dollar amounts. 

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In the email, Tulane said it is canceling the program this summer due to “continued limitations on travel and the closure and/or inaccessibility of many archives, libraries, and research sites.” 

But students like Jesse Chanin, who was counting on a three-thousand dollar writing grant, did not plan to travel for her research. 

“It really makes us feel as though Tulane doesn’t care about its graduate workers,” said Chanin. 

She calls the university’s sudden decision ‘destabilizing’ for graduate students after a long spring semester. 

“Graduate students really went above and beyond this last semester in dealing with the pandemic. We, with little notice, transitioned all of our classes online, we provided untold numbers of hours of support to undergraduates,” said Chanin. 

“And then when the summer comes, and we finally have the opportunity to transition back to our own research, and our own projects, suddenly there’s no funding for that.” 

In a statement to Eyewitness News, Tulane University said it has extended its PhD timeline from seven to eight years. And added, that just this spring, under a new program, it awarded 11 students more than 250-thousand dollars in support. 

Students believe the funding still exists and aren’t giving up. They hope to push the administration to reconsider the cuts.