UOC plans speaking tour about teaching

The Undergraduate Organizing Committee and GESO will travel across the country this month in an effort to answer parents’ questions about teaching in Yale College.

The UOC planned forums in seven major U.S. cities after receiving many responses to a letter it sent to parents over the summer concerning the Graduate Employees and Students Organization’s recent “Blackboard Blues” report on graduate teaching. Both undergraduate students and graduate students will discuss their learning or teaching experiences at UOC members’ homes.

“Blackboard Blues,” a response to the academic review the Committee on Yale College Education released last spring, said graduate students often teach in areas outside their expertise and work for low pay under imperfect conditions.

“We got 200 responses [to our letter] from parents saying ‘this concerns us’ and ‘we want more information,” UOC spokesman Josh Eidelson ’06 said.

GESO Chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said she will be a graduate student panelist at the forums in Boston, New York and Chicago.

“[The forums] are for initiating a much wider conversation about what undergraduates and parents expect from a Yale education and how graduate students have experienced their roles as teachers and what our opinions on teaching at Yale may be,” Seth said. “I think it’s only normal that [parents] would be interested.”

Eidelson said issues graduate teachers face, such as a lack of institutional resources, teaching training, child care and office space, are at the core of GESO’s platform.

The UOC held a teaching forum Oct. 11, during Parents’ Weekend. The first panel this month will be in New York on Nov. 16.

Shalini Uppu ’06 served as a panelist at the Parents’ Weekend forum and will host the Miami forum Nov. 23.

“The idea [for the panel] was, we wanted to explain how problems facing graduate teachers necessarily will affect undergraduates at Yale, which is a distinctly different issue from unionization,” she said.

Uppu said panelists will discuss class section sizes, teaching assistant training and teaching assistant placement policy at the forums.

“This isn’t going to be presented as a debate about unionization. But [unionization] will be suggested as a possible solution to institutional barriers facing students,” Uppu said.

James Terry GRD ’06, president of At What Cost? — a graduate student group formed last spring in opposition to GESO — said he believes undergraduates are, in effect, consumers and have the right to call for teaching improvements. But Terry said he is concerned the UOC may be initiating “activism for activism’s sake.”

“For the most part, these are fine goals, but accomplishing them will require far more than distributing leaflets or complaining to parents; it will require more money,” Terry said. “Activists who want to accomplish these things should take their substantial energies over to the Yale Office of Development and work toward increasing the endowment.”

Marissa Levendis ’07 attended the Parents’ Weekend forum and will host the Nov. 20 forum in Washington, D.C. She said she hopes the forums will inspire parents to petition or send letters to Yale President Richard Levin.

Seth said she believes the forums are about broadening conversations on teaching issues addressed in the GESO platform.

UOC member Erin Scharff '04 discusses the
Brian Goldman
UOC member Erin Scharff '04 discusses the "Better Way Village," a project that the Undergraduate Organizing Committee set up in April to urge the University to find a "better way" to settle union contracts.

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