GESO criticizes transient teachers

The Graduate Employees and Students Organization has published a new report, “Blackboard Blues: Yale Teachers on Yale Teaching,” examining Yale University’s alleged heavy reliance on “transient” employees — graduate students, adjunct instructors and lectors without long-term contracts.

Conducted last year by GESO’s Committee on Teaching, the study said 47 percent of faculty listed as primary instructors for Yale College classes for the Spring 2003 term were transient teachers. Faculty members and administrators said they doubted the report’s validity and said only seven percent of classes have graduate students as primary instructors.

According to the report, graduate students are frequently forced to work for low pay under less-than-ideal conditions, often outside their areas of expertise. In addition, the report said undergraduates often have problems finding full professors to be their advisors or to write them letters of recommendation. Transient teachers account for 79 percent and 85 percent of classroom hours with undergraduates in biology and foreign languages, respectively, the report said.

GESO Chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said the Committee on Teaching drew the report’s statistics from public information, including the course catalogue. GESO published “Blackboard Blues” in response to the Committee on Yale College Education’s academic review, released in April, which the report said failed to evaluate the role of transient teachers at Yale. Graduate students and adjunct instructors were not included in the review process, the report said. A similar GESO report, “Casualization in Blue,” was published in 1999.

GESO member Ben Begleiter GRD ’04 was interviewed for the study about his experience teaching outside his area of expertise. Begleiter, a specialist on ancient Judaism, said he was forced to be a teaching assistant for a course on religion in modern America.

“I felt like the GESO survey was important for hearing another side of what teaching looks like here,” Begleiter said. “When I am forced to teach outside my field of expertise, I’m not able to provide the same level quality of education as when I teach within my field.”

But Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said the study’s statistics are fallacious. He said he was disappointed by the allegations.

“What they say is true of a great many schools and we take care that it is not true here, and for someone not to notice the difference is disheartening,” he said.

The report’s publication comes two months after eight members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee sent a letter to parents of undergraduates citing statistics from the study and claiming the University falsified its student-faculty ratio in the U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings issue.

History Department chairman Jon Butler — a member of the academic review committee, which released a report in April with recommendations to improve Yale College Education — said he disliked the study’s use of the word “transient” to describe non-tenure track faculty. Butler said most of the History Department’s non-ladder appointments become long-term due to frequent contract renewals.

Graduate students were not involved in the academic review because it was largely a curriculum review process, and graduate students do not design curricula, Butler said. The review calls for a 10 percent increase in the number of faculty — approximately 60 teachers.

In order to foster dialogue, GESO, in conjunction with the UOC, has scheduled a series of seven forums in parents’ homes across the nation in November, beginning in New York and ending in San Francisco. UOC member Joshua Eidelson ’06 said the seven cities were selected based upon parent response to the August letter.

To kick off the tour, GESO will host a Parents’ Weekend forum Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Whitney Humanities Center.

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