When the Yale administration unilaterally decided to restructure teaching requirements in the History of Art department, my workload doubled overnight.
One of the best things about teaching in my department is that we teach our weekly sections in the Yale University Art Gallery. There, I help students discover the texture of Titian’s brushstrokes for the first time, notice the way the light shimmers across Valencian lusterware, or read aloud from Xenophanes while standing around a 2,500-year-old piece of Greek pottery.
The long-standing expectation in Art History has been that graduate teachers are responsible for teaching one section of students each semester. These are the terms that were presented to us upon enrollment. This semester, however, after the Yale administration’s restructuring of the Teaching Fellow Program, I was asked to teach two sections.
I am particularly troubled by the fact that the administration appears to have changed teaching departmental requirements unilaterally. This goes against Yale’s own stated goal of assigning teaching loads in consultation with faculty. Yale’s Teaching Fellow guidelines state that the “appropriate level [of teaching] rests on a faculty determination of what constitutes optimal training in teaching in a given discipline.” The original one-section policy had been instituted as part of a faculty review of and report on teaching.
I am classified as a TF20, meaning that I am supposed to spend up to 20 hours per week performing my role as a teaching fellow. As any teacher knows, good teaching requires a great deal of work. Attending lecture and preparing readings is just the start. Last semester, I spent time in the galleries before section to plan how our discussion would move through the space, and how to bring larger issues of museum display and official narratives into our conversations. I did extensive supplemental research on the artworks we would discuss and on the relevant historical periods. I held additional review sessions and workshops on how to write papers using visual evidence. I proctored exams and graded them, giving extensive feedback. I conducted many one-on-one meetings with students to discuss paper topics and drafts, and spent hours reading and commenting on the papers that my students submitted.
Now, the Yale administration is asking me to teach twice as many students within the same 20 hours a week. That means twice as many students to meet with and twice as many drafts to comment on. Twice as many papers to read and twice as many exams to grade. What does the administration suggest I drop? Should I spend less time commenting on the papers that my students have spent hours writing? Should I offer my students fewer meetings? Bring less material to my sections each week?
Graduate teachers across the University are increasingly asked to do more work in the same time and for the same pay. I am concerned about how this trend has affected the work of graduate teachers and the educational experience of Yale students. I fear it will accelerate significantly when the new residential colleges open and add hundreds of students to the undergraduate student body without a corresponding increase in tenure-track faculty or graduate teachers.
My experience has made it clear to me that graduate teachers need a union to negotiate the conditions of our work. With a contract, we would be protected from the arbitrary and unilateral changes that Yale’s administration has imposed on my department and others’. A union and a contract would provide the structure and support I need to focus my attention where it should be: on my students and their first encounters with Greek pottery, Valencian lusterware and Titian’s brushstrokes.
Emily Sessions is a Ph.D. student in the Department of the History of Art. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .