Students in courses across Yale College normally encounter teaching fellows from the professional schools and from a wide breadth of departments within the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
This year, however, Yale used most of the funding for professional school TFs on coronavirus-related needs. As a result, fewer TFs can be sourced from the University’s professional schools, forcing some classes to reduce enrollment due to limited staffing.
According to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler, the funding for graduate versus professional school TFs comes from “completely different sources.” Funding for GSAS TFs, she explained, is specifically allocated to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as part of students’ graduate training –– but this is not the case for professional school TFs.
“When we hire students from the professional schools – that is, when we hire students who are not part of the GSAS – we obviously can’t use GSAS funds to support their teaching,” Gendler told the News in an email. “Instead, we make use of the budget that covers supplementary instruction. This year … we decided to cover the costs associated with rehiring all of last spring’s instructional faculty – so these supplementary funds have already been allocated.”
Gendler did not directly respond to why the supplementary funds were used in this way, instead pointing toward Yale’s Office of Institutional Research data that reports 352 instructional faculty for the fall semester.
Deputy Dean of the GSAS Pamela Schirmeister ’80 GRD ’88 said that individual departments have been asked to make their own staffing decisions about where to allocate their graduate student TFs.
“If a department determined that they wanted to put many of their TFs into a single course, at the expense of other courses, or if it wanted to invite graduate students from other departments to serve as TFs for this course, it would be up to them to do so,” Schirmeister wrote in an email to the News. “Typically, however, programs try to distribute resources more evenly so that students have a wider variety of courses from which to choose.”
Gregory Huber, chair of the Political Science Department, told the News in an email that the department normally hires “a good number of Teaching Fellows” from schools outside of the Political Science Department.
There were some courses, Huber noted, that were capped, at least “in part” because of the policy, which made it so that fewer TFs were available.
“More generally, it is always the case that we have courses where demand exceeds supply,” Huber wrote.
Schirmeister also told the News that the number of students enrolled this year is significantly lower than normal due to students taking time off for various reasons related to the pandemic and online classes, so there is decreased demand for TFs. A total of 23 percent of Yale College students took time off this semester.
In her email to the News, Gendler said that this smaller number of students meant that, while the College offered the same number of courses as past years, they would not need the same number of TFs.
“As a result, we are limiting the use of professional school TFs to the small number of courses in which it is pedagogically necessary for them to teach,” Gendler wrote.
Schirmeister said that undergraduate architecture studio classes taught by School of Architecture students would likely still be able to use some professional school TFs, as well as courses in the Environmental Studies Department, which “have no GSAS students of their own.”
Professor Stephen Latham’s “Bioethics and Law” was the most popular course shopped in the spring 2020 semester. Latham said that his course, which regularly attracts nearly 500 students, is typically staffed by around 14 TFs. He added that one to two of these TFs are usually graduate students from the Political Science Department, with the rest coming from professional schools such as Yale Law School or Yale School of Public Health.
This year, his class will have nine TFs: six graduate students from the Political Science Department and three – instead of the usual nine or 10 – from the law school. Latham explained that this limits the number of students who are able to take his class to approximately 270 people, which is “a couple hundred fewer” than normal.
“If there’s a budget constraint, that’s life,” Latham said. “[The Political Science Department] has given me more than the usual number of graduate students, plus permission to hire some students from outside the department. … I’m just sad that not everybody who wants to take the course will be able to.”
In addition to the policy’s impact on Yale College students, Latham explained that it also affects professional school students who look forward to being a TF for certain classes. He said that many law students enjoy working for his class because they get to dive into the law of bioethics, which they might not have done in their classes at YLS.
According to the GSAS website, most Ph.D. candidates at Yale will be a TF in one to four courses during their time at Yale.
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