Is it a policy of Ask a Dean to report letters to supervisors and DGSs without first responding to the grad?

Date: September 2017


Hello deans,

I recently sent a letter to Ask a Dean inquiring about the university’s policy regarding remuneration for overtime teaching work. Imagine my surprise when, before hearing back about my questions, I received mail from both my supervisor and my department’s DGS! Instead of being answered, my questions were apparently submitted to my department as a complaint, with my identity still attached.

It appears my supervisor and DGS are working to ease my teaching load and provide remuneration where I go over, and I’m happy for this. However, not everyone asking a question about a problem involving their superiors will necessarily want action taken unilaterally in their name, and in many cases it could be quite harmful. Is it a policy of Ask a Dean to report letters to supervisors and DGSs without first responding to the grad?

“A busy grad taken aback”


Dear Busy Grad Taken Aback,

Thank you for your follow-up Ask a Dean question to your earlier “Very Busy Grad” question. 

Many Ask a Dean questions focus on areas for which the Graduate School has responsibility, but some do not (e.g., the recent question about gender-neutral showers on the Engineering Quad). Depending on the issue, the responding dean may engage with other campus units to gather information or develop an appropriate solution, and we sometimes engage guest-responders to respond to the student question when the topic is outside of the Graduate School’s remit. If a student requests to remain anonymous or if the question is especially sensitive we check back with the student questioner before sharing the question or the student’s identity with others who can help.

I received your Ask a Dean question by email on the morning of September 19. (I don’t receive the mailbox questions directly; staff check the mailbox and forward to me as soon as their schedules allow.) An astute colleague informed me that on September 18 (a day before I received your question) you posted the same Ask a Dean question publicly to your Twitter account, with the header “the busy boy who loves to stir it up.” Because your name was also attached to that public posting I assumed that you did not expect confidentiality. I raised the issue with your DGS promptly because he was in the best position to help with an appropriate solution for your situation and may have already been aware of your concerns based on your earlier Tweet.

After your DGS rapidly responded to help develop a resolution to your situation and you publicly posted your email exchange with him, I understand that you again posted to Twitter stating “a busy boy who now on top of everything else has to respond to a bunch of concerned emails.” Please know that your DGS, your department chair, your course instructor, and I are genuinely concerned enough to help find a solution for the problem you expressed.

Thank you again for raising the original issue regarding how to make sure that TAs are aware of their time commitment protections under University Policy 1.3, and that faculty are also aware and monitoring that time commitment limits are followed and TAs have the guidance needed to keep their hours within policy.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School