Insights and Research on Graduate Education
Volume 8, Number 4Fall 2019
The Advocate Dean

Jeni Hart, Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Studies, University of Missouri

Advocacy in graduate education takes many forms. It is critical to have a strong relationship with your campus government relations office; know  and be able to reach out to your state and national representatives (and importantly, their staff); and be a resilient voice to remind faculty, staff, students, and administrators on campus of the critical role graduate education plays at our colleges and universities. I have learned that graduate students often get lost in campus conversations about student success, well-being, career coaching, and others. As a result, I often find myself at meetings repeating my mantra: “What about graduate students?”

Within the last year, one of my most significant advocacy roles has been to re-establish the Graduate School at the University of Missouri. In 2014, the Graduate School transitioned into the Office of Graduate Studies. Once an academic unit reporting to the Provost, the Office of Graduate Studies became an administrative unit reporting to the Vice Chancellor for Research. An Associate Vice Chancellor led the office, rather than a dean. Although the Office of Graduate Studies performed many of the same duties as the Graduate School and benefitted from developing a closer relationship to the research mission of the University, it lost stature, a presence in academic conversations, a seat “at the table,” and ultimately, had less power to advocate for graduate students and graduate education.

I began my role as the Associate Vice Chancellor in August 2017 hoping that I could lay the groundwork to re-envision and re-instate the Graduate School. Supported by a number of campus task forces and new campus leadership, the timing was right for the campus to reconsider whether the University should reestablish the Graduate School.

Informed by the best practices outlined by the Council of Graduate Schools for the organization and administration of graduate education, I crafted a proposal, advocating for a Graduate School. I shared my plan with the Chancellor, Provost, Deans, Faculty Council, Graduate Faculty Senate, University of Missouri System President, and graduate students.

I argued that graduate education is central to the University of Missouri’s responsibilities as a research university. In addition, elevating the status of graduate studies from the purview of an administrative office to an academic school is consistent with the majority of our peers and reflects the status graduate education should have at such a university. For those of us working in graduate education, these arguments seem obvious, but in my campus advocacy work, I have come to realize that they are not, which reinforces the importance of advocacy for the students with whom we work.

After a year and a half, the Graduate School was re-established at the University of Missouri and is now led by a Dean. I am fortunate to serve in that role. I know that my advocacy work is far from over and hope that I am in a better position to continue this work. I also know that advocacy matters no matter your title or organizational structure.