9.5.17

YALE'S GENERAL COUNSEL CHANNELS CHARLIE SYKES.

The graduate teaching assistants at Yale are emulating their public university counterparts of, oh, thirty or forty years ago, and organizing a union.  Yale historian Jennifer Klein endorses their strike.
Yale refused to acknowledge the union. Instead, it hired Proskauer Rose, a high-powered law firm that specializes in union-busting, to harass and intimidate the students. Lawyers forced students into a labor board hearing and badgered graduate teachers on the witness stand for hours, demeaning their knowledge and skills. The lawyers argued that for many of the courses they teach, these graduate students “have no subject matter expertise” and therefore don’t qualify as professors. It would, of course, be very odd if such a prestigious school let inept graduates teach students whose families pay some $50,000 a year in tuition. That Yale would besmirch its own student teachers this way to keep from bargaining with them is appalling and detrimental to its educational mission.
No, graduate assistants are not yet professors, they are professor apprentices. But in besmirching the graduate assistants, counsel have made an ill-kept secret less secret. "Like many colleges and universities, Yale relies on graduate students and other low-paid contingent faculty members, like adjunct professors, to teach much of its coursework."  Yes, and Professor Klein's essay reveals another dynamic at work, higher education as multi-level marketing with more earnest pitchmen.
American universities have become increasingly dependent on this cheap labor. Tenured and tenured-track jobs have declined significantly, with only about 30 percent of faculty members in such positions in 2016, down from about 40 percent in 2013. There are also a lot fewer job openings. In 2015, for example, 1,183 English Ph.D.s graduated, but there were only 361 openings for assistant English professors in all of academia. Job postings with the American Historical Association — the nexus for history professor job listings — declined by 45 percent over the past five years.

This has created a perpetual backlog of aspiring assistant professors, all competing for fewer jobs. It is not the case anymore that a graduate student teacher can scrape by on meager wages, taking on debt that will be paid off by a steady job in the future. More and more, contingent faculty members are stuck as just that.

At Yale, graduate student teachers tried sending letters, gathering signatures for community petitions and holding rallies to bring the school to the bargaining table, without result.
Unionization might make the graduate stipends better, but what will come after graduation is not encouraging.  Here, from the late 1980s, is Prof Scam, pages 42 and 43.  "At Yale, [teaching assistants] make up more than 25 percent of the people teaching and in a recent year filled 1,521 teaching appointments. ... At Yale, the T.A.s complain that they receive no job training, no job descriptions, and no explanations for the level of their meager and often arbitrary pay.  Frustration was so great that T.A.s for a time picketed, carrying signs reading: 'You Can't Eat Prestige,' and 'Ph.D. Need Not Stand for Poor, Hungry, and Debt-ridden.'"  And yet, aspiring professors keep chasing the ever-more-elusive hare of a tenure-track appointment, and the chance to retire those loans.  (That's a forlorn hope in many of the evergreen disciplines.)

So opt out.

But another part of the scam is these universities touting the opportunity to work with talented faculty.  (MacArthur grants!  Nobel Laureates!  Fields Medal!  Triple Crown!) and then the matriculants encounter "graduate students and other low-paid contingent faculty members.")

Cripes.  How many times do I have to make the case for senior noncoms?  We don't miss them in higher education until we do.
[T]he academy's use of graduate assistants and freeway flyers for introductory courses sends the wrong message. The post speaks of office hour policies. How many students are taking classes from temps who have no office hours because they have no office? And what authority does such a surrogate professor have?
That argument goes back to Impostors in the Temple, again, a work from thirty years ago that is still relevant.  Professor Klein compares Yale's behavior with that of corporations relying increasingly on a contingent work force and flexible staffing, and that's valid (albeit in business, corporations can learn the hard way when downsizing is a false economy), but her vision of the university is a vision of the faculty as stewards of the curriculum.  "The university is nothing if not a place that should foster critical inquiry and civic engagement."  Yes, and that is the case for the faculty insisting on staffing the entry-level courses, and on insisting that colleges and universities authorize sufficient tenure-line slots to staff those courses.  Perhaps, then, their graduate programs will look less like multi-level marketing schemes, as a byproduct.

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