The UNC-Chapel Hill history department announced Monday that they would not be admitting a 2021 class of graduate students, citing years of state budget cuts and the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on university funding.

“The decision to eliminate a cohort of future graduate students was not an easy one, but we have decided that the most responsible course of action is to prioritize those who are already in our program,” the department’s statement reads. The school says that it will start accepting applications again in fall 2021.

The department is the first at UNC to make this decision, but not the first history program to put admissions on hold: Columbia‘s Ph.D. history program and Yale‘s art history department are also suspending their admissions, also citing the effects of the pandemic. 

The university is dealing with budget cuts from the pandemic, as well as years of budget cuts from the UNC System. On September 11, WRAL reported that the university was weighing a few possibilities to make up for the $300 million loss in revenue, including furloughs, temporary salary reductions, and shrinking or even eliminating programs.

The day before, they laid off all Carolina Housing student employees.

Many on social media praised the decision, mentioning the pandemic’s effect on the job market.

“Glad my old department is choosing to support existing students rather than adding new ones; it’s the right decision,” says Twitter user Kristen Twardowski. “It’s not a great sign, though, that even a top program has to make this choice. Budgets for all levels of academic institutions are facing a crisis.”

Others questioned the decision. Third-year graduate student Emily Taylor worries that this won’t help the program’s attrition rates. She also mentions that their program is around 16-20 people every year, whereas Duke’s history department takes less than 10 grad students at the start of every school year. She says students have been asking for smaller cohort sizes for years, but are told that the department needs them as teaching assistants.

“By bringing in a small cohort of four to six students, they could do a lot for our department,” Taylor told the INDY. “By bringing in increasing diversity, which they have said they have a commitment to, but they have not shown. A lot of our students of color I’ve been leaving over the last couple of years and our department is getting progressively whiter. This just accelerates that trend.”

Second-year graduate student Ben Fortun says he’d rather see faculty take pay cuts instead of cancel admissions. The UNC System reports that 26 of 53 professors in the history department make over $100K, while graduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences receive, at minimum, a $11,400 stipend every year.

“I think we need grad students to be here working and building community, and continuing to put out great ideas and great scholarly work that our department has been asked to do,” Fortun says. “So I think it’s kind of a putting a bandaid on the wrong wound or putting the wrong bandaid on the right wound.”

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