Students challenge Yale prof statistics



Eight members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee sent a letter to parents of undergraduates in late August, condemning a “crisis of mentorship” at Yale and claiming that the University falsely reported its student-faculty ratio in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

Citing statistics from a yet unpublished study conducted in 2002-03 by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, the letter’s authors decried the University’s supposedly heavy reliance on non-tenure track and graduate instructors. Yale’s dependence on “transient” faculty and graduate instructors has hindered students’ ability to find advisors and adequately discuss course material, the students said in the letter.

Although all the signatories were UOC members, the authors said the letter was not an official UOC action.

According to the letter, 47 percent of faculty listed as primary instructors in the spring 2003 semester were non-tenure track and graduate instructors. The letter said Yale’s student-faculty ratio is 9.5 to 1, rather than the 7 to 1 ratio cited in U.S. News and World Report’s annual survey.

“The fact that Yale is falsifying its records to the U.S. News and World Report is something that people need to know,” UOC member Zachary Schwartz-Weinstein ’04 said.

Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, who called the letter “dishonest,” said the students sent it without the administration’s knowledge or approval. Only 7 percent of classes have a graduate student as the primary instructor, he said.

“The numbers used in this letter are wholly inaccurate, and one can only think, misleading for a purpose,” History Department chairman Jon Butler said.

Schwartz-Weinstein said the UOC members decided to write the letter after they saw the GESO study’s statistics on percentages of “transient” or non-tenure track faculty — adjunct instructors, lectors, and graduate student teachers. The letter said GESO decided to conduct the study in response to the Committee on Yale College Education’s academic review, which was released in April. The review failed to address the increase in transient faculty teaching undergraduates, the letter said.

Butler said the History Department does not depend on graduate students to fill out its curriculum, but instead awards them the chance to teach seminars and sections as part of their own training. Even so, Butler said the majority of the responsibility for course design and instruction still lies in the hands of the professor.

But GESO Chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said the statistics Yale provides overlook the needs of undergraduates. She said GESO used available public information, such as the course catalogue, when compiling the data for its study.

“To include the people who are not here on a permanent basis gives a mischaracterization,” she said. “If you are looking at advising — there’s a very different role that full-time faculty play.”

GESO published a similar report in 1999 entitled “Casual in Blue,” which also addressed concerns about Yale’s dependence on non-ladder faculty.

The letter’s use of the term “transient” also drew harsh criticism from Brodhead. Non-ladder faculty include whole ranks of lectors and senior lectors, many of whom have several-year contracts, Brodhead said.

“The word ‘transient’ is an extremely obnoxious and inappropriate word in this context,” he said.

Butler said the History Department views its lector contracts, which range from one to three years in length and are frequently renewed, as long-term relationships. Yale also sponsors visiting professors to give students access to distinguished scholars, he added.

GESO member Brenda Carter GRD ’04, who directed research for the study, acknowledged that lectors are frequently more permanent fixtures at Yale. Nevertheless, she said these non-ladder faculty are at a disadvantage.

“There’s a real problem with the academic freedom that people in jobs like that actually have,” she said. “Your relationship with the administration is actually very different than a faculty with tenure.”

Carter said even though she is a graduate student, she is still concerned about the quality of undergraduate education. She and Seth said the welfare of undergraduate and graduate students are more related than most people think.

“Our working conditions are your learning conditions,” Seth said. “When we have more resources and more control over our working environment, you have better learning conditions.”

To that end, the letter said the two groups are planning to co-sponsor forums in major cities across the United States to address issues raised by the letter. It asked parents to return an enclosed postcard if they wanted more information. UOC member Joshua Eidelson ’06 said the group has received a good number of postcards from parents.

Brodhead, however, said he received no questions or comments at a panel discussion for 500 parents held the Friday freshmen arrived.

“I think people were not worried about it because it was simply not true,” he said.

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