Yale’s recently released 2003-2004 Financial Report proclaims that “no other major university is taking a more sweeping look at how administration can contribute to the academic mission.” Unfortunately, my own experiences of administrative oversight reveal an administration more invested in cheapening education than enriching it.
Every semester, graduate teachers are asked to fill out an electronic survey to verify that our teaching appointments are correct and that our duties match the job descriptions laid out for each TF level. These levels range from grading to leading two discussion sections in the humanities. Each level’s description includes an approximate sense of how many hours of effort per week are expected, and the highest come with TF 4.0, which expects 20 hours. Each level has a salary that more or less corresponds to the increasing amount of work.
Makes sense so far? Enter the world of the PTAI.
PTAI stands for Part-Time Acting Instructor, and students in Yale College will mostly recognize them as their language teachers. In this capacity, a PTAI teaches every day of the week and is responsible for his or her own course. Given that the highest TF level teaches twice per week and is expected to work 20 hours, it would stand to reason that a PTAI would probably need to devote more hours than that to responsibly teach daily. It would also stand to reason that the salary for the PTAI would reflect that added effort and time.
But the PTAI job description is different. Instead of a realistic estimate of how much work such an appointment can entail, Graduate School documents only note that “hours of effort will vary from individual to individual.” And the pay issue? The salary of a PTAI is only $100 higher per semester than a TF 4.0. In my case, that covers 45 additional classes that I plan, teach and grade, going at a discount rate of just $2.22 each. This makes me wonder exactly where Yale College’s tuition increase is going, because it’s certainly not going to teachers.
In a few weeks new surveys will go out, and just as I have for the past three terms, I will declare that, no, my job description isn’t accurate at all. And just like in past terms, I’ll hope that somewhere, in the spirit of making a contribution to the academic mission of the university, an administrator will see this problem and find a way to solve it. But perhaps more disturbing than the problem itself are the solutions Yale administrators have already proposed. In response to my survey answers last semester, Yale College Associate Dean Judith Hackman wrote to me to explain that language teaching is supposed to be a half-time commitment and that I should meet with my Director of Graduate Studies “to adjust [my] teaching responsibilities.” When administrators would much rather ask teachers to plan less, prepare less, grade less attentively and spend less time with students, instead of dealing with a broken pay scale, it becomes clear that the system is broken. The very deans who are supposed to be guarding and securing excellence in education are actively encouraging its detriment.
Last spring, 89 graduate students in the languages and literatures filed a series of grievances with the Graduate School on issues related to pay equity. Dean Butler’s response was simply to reiterate the existing pay scale as though it were a self-defending truth. Next semester, though I’ll no longer be a “Teaching Fellow Program Participant,” I will still be at Yale, teaching for a living, trying to support my research. I will earn less than at any previous point in my time here for doing the exact same work. I am appalled at the utter lack of a governing logic and disgusted by the disrespect this shows to my teaching and to my students. Yale’s teachers deserve better: We deserve a union contract.
I’m writing letters of recommendation this weekend for two of my best students. Both prefaced their requests by noting that they recognize the extra time and effort this will require from me and expressed their gratitude. Yale students understand that a teacher’s time doesn’t come for free, so why doesn’t Yale?
Evan Matthew Cobb is a fourth-year graduate student in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. He teaches German 130 and is an organizer for GESO.