Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pro Communione is out!

I just found out today that Wipf & Stock has published Pro Communione: Theological Essays on the Anglican Covenant. This long-awaited volume of essays is the first book-length treatment of the final Covenant text, and includes essays from a number of scholars inside and outside of the Anglican Communion.

My contribution to Pro Communione is a chapter on "The Anglican Covenant and Anglicanorum Coetibus," where I discuss the ecumenical implications of both documents, especially as they pertain to Anglican churches not currently in communion with Canterbury. The nearly simultaneous publication of these two important ecclesiastical documents in late 2009 provides a unique opportunity to consider the ecumenical future of the churches at a critical point in its development.

Pro Communione is available from Wipf & Stock; you can also follow any forthcoming news about it on its facebook page.

Many thanks to Benjamin Guyer, who did so much work as the editor of this volume. While you're ordering Pro Communione, you should also order a copy of Ben's recently published The Beauty of Holiness: The Caroline Divines and their Writings, and read his recent article in The Living Church on canon law.

Thanks also to Tony Hunt and Katie Silcox, who gave valuable suggestions on previous drafts of my chapter.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Practical Consideration on Doctoral Stipends

We have been looking into buying a car lately – used, but newer and more reliable than the 1996 Honda Accord we drive right now. During this process we’ve checked into getting a small auto loan in order to leave a little bit of breathing room in our savings, since our income is relatively irregular – I receive three stipend checks during the school year from the university, we get a small monthly stipend (again, during the school year) for our work as residence staff, and Tricia’s work as a doula involves payment from clients after babies are born (quite an unscheduled thing!). Most of Tricia’s clients are non-paying, too, as she does a lot of her work with Chicago Volunteer Doulas, a (fabulous) group that offers free services to low-income mothers.

So we went to our bank (Chase) and ran into a problem with applying for a loan. The bulk of our income is my doctoral stipend from the Divinity School, which for the 2011-2012 school year was $21,000. However, because this was stipend money coming from a degree-granting educational program, the loan representative would not count it as income.

I had a long and aggravating discussion with the representative trying to figure out why they have this policy about education-related income. I couldn’t really get out of him what exactly distinguished academic labor from other sorts of labor in the eyes of the bank. He ended up explaining that student remuneration was different than regular income because I could leave the doctoral program at any time and then I wouldn’t have the stipend any more.  I suggested that he could leave Chase at any time and he would lose his income as a banker too. He told me that we weren’t talking about him. I gave him a long speech about trying to feed my kids and how their policies are just making it more difficult for people who are just trying to get by, but there wasn’t much more to say that would have changed the immediate situation regarding the status of my stipend.

So, long story short, Chase does not consider a doctoral stipend as income when evaluating loan applications. I don’t know what the policy is with other banks, but my guess is that this is pretty typical (or at least not out of the ordinary). This is something that people going into or already in a stipend-granting program should be aware of ahead of time. To my mind it’s a stupid policy, although I’m open to hearing the sense in it from others. Sensible or not, it’s at least another financial hurdle for students who are already often struggling with things like expensive family plans for university student health insurance (family plans for staff are more reasonable, in my experience) or how to find affordable childcare so that a second income becomes a possibility.

In our case the problem is now moot because the credit union associated with the University has no issue with university stipends – this may be a possibility in other financial institutions that have relationships with a school and so understand academic peculiarities a little better.  For situations where stipend legitimacy is still an issue, though, we found that there are possible workarounds to consider.

Apparently, Chase had an issue with the fact that I earned “income” for being a student. It would have been different if I were teaching, however, because that is legitimate “labor” in their eyes (or something). Upon hearing this, I asked the representative how they handle something like a graduate assistantship, where the income is not only for your work as a student, but also for your work as a TA, instructor, proctor, etc. He said that this would probably be fine. Afterward I asked my brother about this because he has an assistantship at a doctoral program, and he confirmed that this counted as income when he and his wife were buying their house.

At the University of Chicago Divinity School, a program has been in place for a few years where every doctoral student gets a standard stipend (as I said above, currently $21,000... the school year before it was $20,000). They don’t call it an “assistantship,” but at some point during our program we are required to fulfill a certain amount of “teaching points”, which includes options like TAing, working at the undergraduate writing center, or instructing. I have not worked toward any of these teaching points yet, but because the stipend as a whole is contingent upon fulfilling these requirements at some point during my program, the Chase representative thought that it probably would be adequate basis for considering even my current stipend income as real “income”. Again, we haven’t needed to pursue proper documentation for this from the university because the credit union already accepts stipends in any form, but it sounds like the option is there for us or for others who go to schools with a similar financial aid set-up.

This may not be relevant information for many of you- I was speaking with our Assistant Dean of Students about it, and she said she could only recall one other instance during her time here when an issue like this came up (it involved a loan for a house, and I assume it was long before the Divinity School had their current assistantship-like program in place). But as you apply to graduate programs or even now that you’re in one, it may be worth quizzing the school about how exactly their financial package works. Sometimes a program will offer highly-valued assistantships to some admitted students and smaller grants to others.  The difference between these two options may not simply be the prestige of the award or the opportunity for you to teach... one of them may count as “income” to a bank while another doesn’t. Outside grants or dissertation fellowships may function differently as well.

I am no expert on financial matters, which may have been why it was a surprise to discover that stipend income didn’t count as income in the first place (where it’s a personal benefit to count, at least... of course no one has a problem with considering it income when taxes are being determined). But if I wasn’t aware of this, I’m sure there are a few other finance-ignorant humanities folks out there who could likewise use this sort of heads-up.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Niebuhrian Inspirations

The latest two PhD Comics are, I'm sure, familiar to many of you.  They work especially well for me as the kid's name is apparently Sophie.

On these occasions, I try to think about how many groundbreaking scholarly works have been typed one-handed while a kid is yanking on the other.  More than a few, I imagine. This also reminds me of Reinhold Niebuhr's dedication page for The Nature and Destiny of Man:

To my wife
who helped, and
To my children
who frequently interrupted me
in the writing of these pages