This letter is responding to the article: Teaching fellow shortage to blame for intro course caps
An article in Wednesday’s edition of the News blamed enrollment caps for introductory courses on a purported “teaching fellow shortage.” There are factual inaccuracies and worrisome implications in that article that I wish to address. If the News had seen fit to interview graduate students in the process of its investigation, these errors likely would have been avoided.
First, the article claims that teaching fellow, or TF, shortages for this semester can be attributed in part to fewer admitted graduate students and pandemic-era budgetary restrictions. But the vast majority of TFs do not begin to teach until their second or third years at Yale. Admissions and financial decisions for 2020-21, therefore, have no bearing on the TF supply in fall 2021.
Second, Dean Schirmeister stated to the News that the preference for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, or GSAS, was for graduate students to serve as TFs in courses for which they are qualified. That may be GSAS’s stated preference, but my experience suggests that this is more aspirational than realistic. This year, I almost had to accept a TF assignment in History for which I was not qualified because Classics had too many available TFs for the courses that they offer. At least some of Yale’s departments are experiencing a teaching fellow abundance!
Third, it is hard to believe that Yale’s administration could not foresee the logistical complications that would arise from implementing a new preregistration system that allows for shopping by a new name: add/drop period. When students are allowed to register for up to 10 credits at the beginning of the semester, it is predictable that many courses will see major enrollment losses by the end of the add/drop period. I am now teaching a Latin course that initially had three student “visitors” on Canvas whom I never met or heard from. I suspect that many instructors had a similar experience.
If nothing else, departments should not distribute TF assignments until after final enrollment numbers are available. This solution would alleviate graduate student anxiety about which courses they will ultimately teach and allow Yale to preserve its new preregistration system intact.
The implication of the News’s article on the purported “teaching fellow shortage” is that Yale should admit more graduate students. This may serve Yale’s institutional interests, but it would be devastating for graduate students themselves, many of whom aspire to join the professoriate in the midst of an already competitive academic job market. The last thing we need is even more competition for scarce resources.
There are other ways to accommodate the pedagogical needs of Yale’s burgeoning undergraduate population. GSAS could offer more opportunities for graduate students to teach courses on their areas of specialization as Part-Time Acting Instructors. And they could expand the Associates in Teaching program, which allows graduate students to collaborate with faculty to teach innovative courses. This would give graduates the teaching experience that they need for their academic training, and undergraduates a greater variety of curricular options. Now there’s a win-win, if I ever saw one.
Daniel Graves is a seventh-year Ph.D. student in the combined program in Classics and History at Yale. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.