Sometimes I have to remind myself why I wanted so much to come to Yale during my senior year of high school. I was excited about the University’s reputation for putting resources toward undergraduate teaching — a decidedly better reputation than those of many of Yale’s peer institutions. I was excited about participating in the many activities on Yale’s campus, adding my voice to the University community. And, like many students here, I was most excited about learning from and interacting with a diverse group of students and scholars.
Over the course of nearly two years in New Haven, I have met many students, teachers and community members who share visions of Yale similar to my own. But over those same two years, I have been disturbed and disheartened to watch University leaders demonstrate again and again their lack of commitment to the ideals that brought me here.
Last May, Andrew Hamilton, whom President Levin has since appointed provost of the University, told a group of undergraduates that “students don’t have a say in who teaches them.” As a student who is invested in my education here — and I should hope the University would expect nothing less of me — I find it unacceptable that the administrator who “oversees academic policies and activities throughout the University,” as the Provost’s Office Web site reports, would consider that more than 5,000 undergraduates at Yale have no voice in their education. Given that one-third of these undergraduates’ classroom hours are spent with faculty who have no job security or permanent relationship with the University — and that another third of the total hours are spent with graduate teachers who receive no family health care and barely living wages as defined by the State of Connecticut — this situation is outrageous. More than 100 of these teachers, including those in degree programs in art, music and forestry, do not even receive their own health care and at the same time pay tuition. Other than Provost Hamilton, President Levin and the CEOs on Yale’s Corporation, who does have a say in who teaches us? It’s not undergraduates, and, to no lesser degree, it’s not our teachers.
Certainly, our language teachers have had no say in deciding how little they’re paid for each class period they teach. Certainly, the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-year teaching assistants who are paid substantially less than their third- and fourth-year counterparts, despite TAing the same courses and grading the same exams for a living, have had no say in deciding their pay scale. And yet, last spring, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler summarily dismissed 89 of these teachers’ grievances regarding pay equity. Where is Butler’s commitment, Hamilton’s commitment, Levin’s commitment to providing resources for undergraduate teaching?
And where is their commitment to leading a diverse, empowered community in which everyone has equal access? As an undergraduate, I am heartened by Levin’s new initiative for financial accessibility, the result of sustained student pressure. But what about the dozens of graduate employees whose children are on the state health care program because the University provides them no insurance? What about the fact that the percentages of graduate students of color at Yale have remained well below the national average throughout Levin’s presidency, while Dean Butler had the audacity to report that he “lost” several hundred students’ grievances about this issue, and Provost Hamilton refused even to take into his hands a letter about the issue from concerned members of the Yale community? Where is the University’s leadership?
Despite Yale’s institutional silence, I have had no trouble finding those who join me in claiming a stake in undergraduate education, democratic participation and a diverse community. We’re undergraduates, members of locals 34 and 35, faculty, and the 60 percent of TAs who have asked Yale to recognize GESO as their union. I’m excited about the opportunity to stand with my sisters and brothers in GESO, because I’m excited about the University community we’re building together. Amidst the current vacuum of administrative vision, ours is a vision in which we do have a say in who is teaching us and who our colleagues are. Although my administrators have not demonstrated the commitment to teaching and equal access that they should, that commitment is alive and well at Yale. I’ll be continuing to live out that commitment alongside GESO, this week, on the picket lines.
Christine Slaughter is a sophomore in Calhoun College.