Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The End of Commentary

This concludes the re-posting of old commentary. Everything on the site is backed up, if a bit abridged... But now I'm I will continue the rebuilding at a later date.

On a final note: the only posts that I claim direct authorship to are the ones signed "-anon". All of the others are either linked articles or one of the various anonymous authors from the old version of Exploitation Anonymous.

Stayed tuned for the thrilling conclusion to SUNY fucking us over.


Spread the Knowledge Thinner

Seriously, your teaching sections will take up as much time as you allow them to.
Try limiting yourself to working 20 hours a week, or maybe start with 25. Do all of your school work first and put yourself ahead of your class. Here's why: You can still do a good job with a little less effort in your teaching because, you are not paid as much as a full-time professor. Your research into the _____ of 19th cent _____ is more important than whether or not every student in your class fully understands MLK's I have a Dream Speech, because ultimately, your work in your own studies will get you a job before whether or not one student will get the concept you are putting forth. This doesn't mean sacrificing your students for yourself, or maybe it does, but so what. Every experienced teacher, and I mean years and years on the job teachers...your 50 yo AP teacher from high school will tell you that you have to put yourself first or else your kids will never get your best. Because if you are so stressed that you couldn't finish your mid-term paper for ENG 565q because you were grading, you will not be an effective teacher. There are so many ways to evaluate students in the classroom that you need to carve out time over the course of two weeks or so to grade their papers, not because it takes for ever, but because you need to remain sane while doing it. However, you will kill yourself if you do not put yourself ahead of them and get done what you need to get done first. Then devote time to them. There is nothing so essential about a single day's lesson that it cannot be delayed if necessary. In fact your whole class objective for the semester should be less about covering material and more about hammering in a few, yes a few, extremely important skills. You can teach them millions of interesting facts and ways to analyze, but unless they have a foundation, they will get nowhere. And yes, keep the class simple and middle-grounded. The smart kids should have opted out of the class in the first place. And despite the notion of the wellfare state, not every kid is going to do well in college. Not every kid should be at Binghamton. This isn't social darwinism, but rather a recognition that there are different skill levels and different colleges to match those skill levels. There has to be a point at which your kids come toward what objectives you are getting at, not you always lagging for their sake. And I agree, office hours are a good place to deal with those issues. However, I imagine, given that you are graduate students, that you never had a professor coddle you. You probably had several who did the opposite, and it made you a better student and a better writer. Ask your kids to hone those basic skills and really challenge them to write well, but if they don't get it, they don't get it. Do not kill yourself. You are actually in charge of how much work you do.

That aside. We should get more money. That's a separate issue though. The general tone of the poster campaign has been: make us do less work. Not pay us more, which is both more productive and more likely to happen. It is so much cheaper for them to give us some more money than it would be for them to lessen our workload, so I say focus on the issue that helps you pay rent.

But seriously stick to a self-imposed 20-25 hour limit...keep in mind that the contract says an average of 20 hours a week, so on grading weeks, 20-25 is a stretch. See if you can't actually make it work for you, it's not entirely unreasonable. Also, make your office hours one hour more per week than is required, but then cut yourself off from doing any more than that. Do not answer student emails, because no email about how to cite a magazine is an emergency. Train the students to adhere to your policy. Here's another idea: create the 3 before me system, in that students must consult three sources and show that they have before they are allowed to ask you any question that crops up. It makes them do a little work, looking at dictionaries and talking to their friends in class. And it saves you lots of time.

Another thing experienced teachers will tell you: there is no single solution to making yourself more efficient or saving your time. However, if you do a lot of little things and have your students do a lot of little things, the time is there.

The last time someone posted a series of suggestions to save you time they got mocked, but what you don't realize is that they were speaking from a place of experience. Take some education courses or go work in a high school and soon enough you realize that a) you have it easy, and b) the stuff that works for high school teachers works because it works, not because those kids are 15.

I am rambling, but basically understand that education theory is well-researched and well-practiced and that the education kids in your classrooms who are finishing their MAT knows ridiculous amounts more about teaching than any of us do (unless you were one of those kids) and their theories and ideas would be really helpful.

Also, lastly, what is stopping anyone here from reading about professional development and working on it on their own a little but each week? Instead of just asking for the dept to do everything for you, which, yes it should be doing, why go do it for yourself. If you spent an hour a week reading about how to teach I bet you'd save twice as much time on the back end.



In response to this comment:

And maybe if this campaign had all happened when the workload actually changed, and not three years later when you had several classes of students, including many of you, signing on and getting paid exactly what was promised to them, two classes, you'd have a little more clout on the issues that do seem to matter. The funding cuts, the lack of professional development (although clearly many posters on this site resist the idea that there is any room for improvement in their teaching), health insurance for MA students with a teaching load, and the desire for more class options are all real issues that have gotten hidden by the sloganeering.

I assume from this comment that you were not here three years ago. Since you asked, there was a contingent at that time, the first semester of the double workload, who filed a grievance through the proper channels, which subsequently was promptly dismissed by those in power with a measly offer of a piddling pay-off to keep the discontents quiet. I think a lot of what you're seeing in the signs can be traced back to the frustration with the non-outcome of the initial grievance.

I don't know how you can say that the "real issues" have "gotten hidden by the sloganeering." The real issues have been covered over by an administration and faculty that purposely misrepresent and belittle our situation. The official party line is "we don't see it as a problem" because the bottom line is always the numbers and the budget and the status quo at all costs (literally). Nowhere is the quality of education a concern, either for grad students or undergrads. They may acknowledge that conditions are ideal, but they continually defer making any changes because they can't deal with it in a timely fashion. It's always, "Next semester maybe we'll have time to begin to discuss it then, after we go through the proper channels." This is why the problem has festered for three years.

We now learn that even the external review of the composition program is being viewed and implemented with reluctance and consternation, since the interim dean didn't go the "normal route" (whatever that may be) in inviting the external reviewers, or hiring one of them since they uncovered very real problems in the workload and distribution of teaching here.

While it's problematic to say that any visibility is good visibility, and while I acknowledge that many of the signs (which, by the way, are for the most part GONE) are not the most productive means to voice our concerns, you're being naive to deny that they have been a factor in putting these issues on the table. (Just the other day at the coffee kiosk I overheard LAC students talking about the English grad student issues, which I doubt they would have heard about if not for the signs or the Pipe Dream articles, etc.) If anything, the real issues are FINALLY being addressed because of the pressure that the signs and other avenues (the GSEU lawyer, et al.) have put upon the administration.

I agree it would have been ideal to have built solidarity as these issues arose, three years ago or this very semester (as for the four year total funding cuts), but that's not always possible. And unfortunately it still isn't. Summer is almost here, and a new crop of grad students are coming in--oblivious to the exploitation that awaits them, UNLESS we keep these issues alive.

By whatever means necessary.

Ridiculous Posters

Maybe those posters would not have gotten posted if they weren't so ridiculous to start with. Maybe if instead of bullying other grad students, embarrassing colleagues with coercion and misreadings of theory, monopolizing board space, calling out faculty, stickering over any surface that could be found, including the University of Vermont MFA program and other posters just because you decided your issues were more important that anything that could have been up on those boards, pretending like you are the only thing that exists, then maybe, just maybe people wouldn't be mocking the posters.

Maybe if their were a respectful, lucid, and collective thought and platform being presented instead of a bunch of childish, then maybe this could have all been avoided. From the start of the semester, the posters, while raising awareness, lowered the level of discourse to childishness that couldn't be taken seriously. Maybe if you didn't post them on this site like a badge of honor that we were all supposed to laud you for, for your clear wit and intelligence, then maybe you'd have more support.
And maybe if this campaign had all happened when the workload actually changed, and not three years later when you had several classes of students, including many of you, signing on and getting paid exactly what was promised to them, two classes, you'd have a little more clout on the issues that do seem to matter. The funding cuts, the lack of professional development (although clearly many posters on this site resist the idea that there is any room for improvement in their teaching), health insurance for MA students with a teaching load, and the desire for more class options are all real issues that have gotten hidden by the sloganeering.
There is serious amount of defensiveness among this group that is counter-productive, if those vocal and abusive of you could listen to other sides of things, then there could be a little more dialogue about these issues.

Productive Discourse

I'm tired of hearing about 'productive discourse' from the most counterproductive voices on this blog. These 'productive discourse' advocates are constituted by voices that never, ever surface unless there's flaming to be done. Post a unifying letter of solidarity by Einstein, and you've got 0 comments. Post two peace-keeping, cogently worded, even tempered entries, and once again: no comments. But here, all it takes is one satirical response to an entry about time management, and you've got a gamut of knee-slapping one liners about brain tumors:

"What shape will your negative energy take on when they remove the tumor it causes in your brain?
My guess, a starfish.

Way to facilitate constructive dialog."

Rhetorically, this move is unimaginative and inarticulate. If you're going to critique negative energy, that is valid. But presenting a counterpoint to negative energy with more negative energy is illogical. Is this your definition of productive discourse? Is this how you teach students to structure their own forms of productive discourse?

This about 'Productive Discourse':

Why is it that every single time a positive blog entry is posted on GradExploit, no one responds? Why is it that a post that could be taken as slightly inflammatory is immediately populated by a flame war? Conversely, why is it everytime someone raises a cogent argument, the thread of inquiry suddenly dies?

This leads me to believe that 'productive discourse' isn't something you actually want. Why keep posting here, to let the rest of us know that we're creating unproductive discourse? What I'm gathering is this: you don't agree with the viewpoints posted here. You don't like the posters in the English Department hallway. You don't like the people behind the posters, or this blog. You presumably don't like the GSEU . Am I missing anything? What you dislike is abundantly clear. What do you like? How about contributing something besides your own brand of negative energy?

Here are some possible topics for future discussions. Consider taking part in them:

1. Without resorting to ad hominem attacks or belittling other graduate students, tell us your narrative. What do you like about the Department of English? What classes are you taking? Which faculty mentors do you find particularly helpful? How do you manage your time? Do you have any tips about how to get through the program at a faster, more productive rate?

2. Do you see any potential problems with this English department? What are they? What is your own productive solution to these problems?

If you do not perceive any problems in the department, simply focus your entries on question number one.

See, it's that easy. No tumors necessary.


Hi, I'm the haiku-writer and wasn't at the meeting yesterday. I'm sure a thorough process of elimination would enable you to figure out who I am. Anyway, I DO use KK wants to get rid of it, but I find it exceedingly helpful. I'm really looking forward to not accepting my assignment next semester, especially considering that might end up being a thing of the past.

You've nicely told us that we're spending too much time grading. Two things about this: 1. We were never trained. I came here and was thrown into a classroom at 22 years old. I only learned by trial and error, and lost my health and any vague semblance of a personal life in the process. 2. Also keep in mind that not everyone in the dept is teaching two sections of 20 students. I teach a lecture course at the 300 level. Many people commenting here have a similar assignment. Grading anywhere from 45-90+ students can and will take you 35 hours a week. I'm grading midterms right now, and they are a minimum of 10 pages per person. I'm doing this on top of reading and preparing lesson plans on Foucault. Trust me when I say that a 300 level class involves a great deal of prep time, as I'm dealing with senior English majors who expect challenging reading material and stimulating lectures.

In terms of next semester, many of my colleagues were assigned one section of 45 students as an upper level course, plus a 20 person Eng 115 (plus a Rhet 245 1 credit course). This is going to be an absolute time-sucker, and there's no way any of them are going to get their dissertations written. They have to prepare for two+ different classes, one of which is writing-intensive, the other being reading intensive. Between preparation for 2+ courses, grading 65 papers, office hours, writing 3 syllabi, and actual time spent in the classroom, this will amount to 35 hours a week, period. This would be fine, if we weren't STUDENTS. Writing DISSERTATIONS. Finishing EXAMS. And then, navigating an abysmal job market. Time IS money, and I don't mean these pathetic stipends, or the even-more pathetic paycheck adjuncts receive after 'failure' to finish in four years.

The tough-love approach I've seen featured all over this blog is the 'suck it up / grad school is hard' simplified nonsense. Of course grad school is hard, but I (and others) want the chance to be an actual grad student. Dear Tough-Lovers, get ready for what happens when you finish coursework. You don't feel like a student at all, and it's because you're not a student. You're someone responsible for writing an exam, an exam that will never been commented on by your faculty advisor. Your advisor likely won't even help you construct a reading list, as I was told to "go look at amazon" instead. You won't see this advisor all semester long, but that's fine, because they'll probably be on sabatical anyway. And you'll go to campus to teach, possibly visit the library, and take the 15 Leroy back to home, where you will sit all night grading. On some dark night of the soul, you first and second year PhD students may realize: I am not a student, and this realization will require an Ativan. Because you're not. You're not a student. You're cheap labor, but you're also getting a piece of paper out of the deal. It'll say "doctor" and no one will give a shit because there's thousands of others just like you, unless your CV has something shiny on it (besides, y'know, the 45 classes you taught) but that is unlikely. We have no professional development here, though perhaps you can be one of the special ones to rise above it all, and have a great future teaching a 4/4 load in Laramie, Wyoming.

So, if anyone wants to say, "you're lucky that SUNY Binghamton prepared you, because you're going to spend a life teaching a 4/4 courseload while serving on various committees," I say: ha. I can thank SUNY Binghamton for this: I am leaving this place and will never enter a classroom again. Yes, I love teaching and I'm damn good at it. Yes, I love research. Yes, I love literature. However, I'm not spending a life teaching freshman comp and/or being an administrator. I will not spend a decade as adjunct. I don't love "the profession" enough to sacrifice my personal relationships for it, either. I cannot, nor will I have a spouse, and a family, and friends, AND a life as an artist if I'm teaching a 4/4 courseload, possibly as an adjunct. Perhaps it's possible to "do both," and maybe you'll be the one to have it all. Maybe, somehow, your CV is the phoenix in all of this. I certainly hope it is, as I truly want nothing but the best for the rest of you (which is why I'm so disgruntled. I think we deserve actual professional development. We deserve a CHANCE to be something other than a lifetime adjunct.)

I began this program wanting a career in Academe. After realizing far, far too late what type of job market they're "preparing" us for (I mean, job market we prepare ourselves for) I will instead sell insurance in Northern New Jersey and hopefully marry into money.

Where dreams go to die, infuckingdeed. At least I still have a chance for happiness in the future. Maybe you do, too. There's always the future.



I really do think there is a lot of truth in the discussion from the meeting yesterday about inexperience causing the workload/time management issues to be a major reason why some TAs are spending as much time as they are doing their work.

If this isn't your first semester teaching and you are spending 35 hours a week teaching, prepping, grading, etc, then are doing too much work.

There was some uncomfortable shifting in the room when KK said she could make you a better teacher and that she knew what she was doing, and I know it sucks to hear you're not the best at something, but I think she's right. Except for reading books for 117, it shouldn't really take anyone more than an hour or two of prep work a week to do lesson plans, which chances are you can do in your office hours. If you are spending more than 5-10 minutes a paper when grading, you are spending too much time. If you are reading drafts, and want to continue to, make it an assignment instead of a offer, and have it replace one of the papers your students write.
Don't read a paper for a student beforehand; instead, make them bring topics and questions and concerns to you. Refer them to the writing center, tell them to get their friends to help them, and make it seem less that you're delegating and more that you're allowing additional people to give opinions on the work etc.
Student-centered learning, which again elicits cringes I'm sure, is based on the idea that students are actively engaged in their own learning, not you as teacher handing down all the knowledge needed. The most effective way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, so let your students do the work. Make them grade each other for daily assignments. Ask education majors for help...yes you know more about literature, but they know more, possibly a lot more, about teaching.

Also, you just have to get over it and use it if you're worried about cheating. Students probably aren't that offended about your using it...just tell them you had problems in the past you just want to be sure. Or help instill in them the sense that catching people cheating, when, not if, it happens helps the value of their diploma.

The End.

A Bit of a Rant

a bit of a rant, if you will:

the paradigm is not local. it is not US and THEM. it is a war built on financial structures that favor the rich/capitalists, structures quietly altered continually since the Neocon Revolution got Reagan elected.

in other words, we may be deck chair arrangers on the Titanic, or we may be locked in steerage awaiting the ice berg. Making the Best, Going Along to Get Along, Taking Positive Steps may be like smiling while the ship of state shoves into dark frozen waters.

"Buck up! Don't worry so much! Global warming oughta zap that sucka right outta the water!"

it's like that locksmith who changes the locks on foreclosed houses (on NPR last night), "One lady wrote herself a to-do list I found on the fridge: get a job, get Tommy into private school, think positively."

the war screwed the economy and all the to-do lists on earth are not going to stop a lot of foreclosures. the problems we are facing are not personal, Sonny. it's business.

how can we make things more BEARABLE? we don't want BEARABLE. we want to THRIVE. that's our problem. we want something GREAT to happen with us and around us. we want the department to thrive. we don't want things just to be bearable - we want things to be GREAT.

what i don't get is how the university can thrive without us. if we are not thriving, how can everyone else? we are the infrastructure. we are the roads and bridges to everywhere the university and the undergraduates want to go. the U can build bombs and germs, but sooner or later it's going to show that kids graduate from here functionally illiterate. they will hold degrees in finance and biomed, but have no clue how to say what they mean because it is graduate students who teach that stuff and the department was too overextended to give graduate students all the time EVERYONE needed to grow as writers.

we want things to be great. great isn't a crew of exhausted graduate students, many not paid enough to survive and therefore not supported in their own work, while treated by the paying customers (undergraduates) as bar taps.

Another round! Attention, garcon! We PAID for it!

i have a dream that the administration will soon realize that crumbling the infrastructure of the university (the language people) will not serve the needs of the military-industrial-biomed-financial complex the university serves.

too great a cognitive leap? we'll have to write smaller steps. we are the roads and bridges and water treatment plants. we are the ducts and the conduits. without us, the place goes to shit (slowly, like a leaky pipe, but inevitably, not for want of trying to plug the holes before the rising waters...).

i think the university should be more generous with us because if you starve, overburden and kick your mule until it dies, you walk and schlep your own schlock.

besides, we're fun. and nice. and wicked clever and stuff. alas, that cuts no ice with them ("AHHH, the BERG!"). okay, back to serious work. as it were. moreover. commenting on undergraduates' work, of course.

PhD = Pill hopping Doppelganger

PhD = Pill hopping Doppelganger,
A Haiku Sequence

ativan point five
lexapro fifteen mgs
forty pounds later

Used to take Paxil
Celexa and Wellbutrin
While I took Exams

Three exams later
Three medications later
One dead dream later

shrink says, take time off
I call in sick on tuesday
stay home, grade midterms

I've been here too long
email committee all week
no one writes me back

Flame war on the blog
Stockholm Syndrome Everywhere
Where are the classes?

Soon, a weekend
I will do the usual:
grade papers and cry

Monday, here again
Today, confront plagiarist
No time for research

Hour and a half
no time to pee in between
Section 2 Comes in

I forgot to eat
No time for dinner or lunch
No worries, still fat

Rotting tooth abcess
badly needed: root canal
extraction? cheaper.

No jobs in English
No preparation for jobs
Wham, Bam, Thank you Ma'am

MLA job lists =
snort xanax off my stretch marks
Thanks Dean Nancy Stamp

Expediency =
Mediocre manuscripts
At least you taught here

Exploitation? Nah.
Just wait till you're an adjunct.
Meanwhile, bend over.

ativan point five
lexapro fifteen mgs
forty pounds later

fucked fucked fucked fucked fucked
fucked fucked fucked fucked fucked fucked fucked
shift this paradigm


I.We need new people in charge of the English department
II.Graduate-level courses should be offered
III.Hiring faculty who are serious about scholarship and mentoring graduate students
IV.Scrutiny of why globalization should be a focus in this department
V.Teaching composition classes that actually interest students
VI.Not letting composition replace 117s
VII.Connecting all courses to meditation
VIII.Locating the inner god and goddess
IX.Communing with your inner child
X.Underwater basket weaving as a possible replacement for a graduate course
XI.Give back to SUNY as much as possible, because SUNY is the best educational system ever!


Good god people on this site are a bunch of paranoiacs.

Seriously, WHO is out to get you?

No one, no one gives a shit about you. The world doesn't owe you anything, and you chose to came here. You are not subaltern, you are not in a gulag, you are a bunch of privileged elitists with such a good life than you can't help but find something to complain about.
I realize that this is your first time in a union, but just because you don't something that is basically industry standard that is going to help you in the long run you pretend like your fingers are getting caught in the die-press.

Get over yourselves and be glad that you don't have real problems to worry about.

"Regain the parts of your life that have suffered" (not a direct quote). Jesus, seriously...this is graduate school. It's supposed to be hard work...not everyone is supposed to be able to do it. Rise to the challenge, better yourselves because of it. And, if you have to fight...fight for the money issues, not the bullshit workload issues.
Grow up and stop acting like a bunch of whiny, spoiled children. You're supposed to be adults.

The Sad Reality

It's good to write letters and post fliers and have meetings. Such things do promote solidarity and awareness, and we should continue to do them.

However...the sad reality is that none of this is going to change anything. All our protests are not going to lessen the load or increase our salaries. Most likely we will not see the return of the 117s or an increase in the number of years of funding. The question then becomes "How much are you personally willing to take?"

My advice for those who have completed coursework(and this is given in all sincerity and in complete support of the protesters) is this: Don't accept the assignment. Simply don't teach. Find another job that pays more than $9.92 per hour and doesn't require you to grade until you go blind. Take the student health insurance, which is quite good. Work part time and spend the rest of your time actually working on your dissertation or your other academic interests. Reclaim the parts of your life that you've neglected for this. It's not a divine calling: There's no need to exploit yourself or suffer indefinitely. If you've already taught a dozen classes on your own, you have teaching experience. No prospective university employer who is genuinely interested in you is going to not hire you simply because you refused to do this for a semester or two while you finished up here.

The Poster Campaign

This poster campaign is being conducted concurrent with negotiations and attempts at communication with faculty and administration--to the point of consulting with a union lawyer, who everyone had a chance to speak to (albeit within a four hour time frame on a Monday afternoon). Both the teaching workload and the cutting of funding are central issues at stake in these negotiations.

I might add that these issues are interdependent--people are taking a longer time to finish their degrees because the workload has been increased, severely inhibiting progress in the program (not to mention a dearth of diverse course offerings, and conspicuously absent and ineffectual faculty advisers.) The administration consistently demands that the department do more with less. Cutting funding of PhD students who had the misfortune of being funded as MA students is the result of the same mentality that caused the initial increase in workload: IT'S CHEAPER. The graduate school "doesn't perceive our program as very credible" because we have become a service organization at the mercy of the administration's mandate to teach as many students for as little money as possible. Seriously, do you know how much students/parents pay to "attend" your classes compared to what we're paid? Do the math. It's sickening.

In short, this is a very complex situation, and the signs are there merely to raise awareness. We appreciate your input.



What the hell do your signs even mean?

Silence equals complicity? Doesn't all your fancy theory teach you not to create binaries because nothing, nothing exists as an Either/Or?

Also, it's so classy to vandalize the posters on the wall. You're so very concerned with workers' rights when the trash you are creating and the mess you're making has to be cleaned up by custodial class who has to work twice as much as you do to make ends meet without insurance or job security. I mean, it's like if your dream of teaching in college falls through you might have to resort to relying on your BA or MA; I mean they have it lucky, there are always privileged, whiny white people to clean up after.

"God! Teaching is like soooo hard. First, I have to get up 8...yeah AM...just so I can read an article before class at 11:40...and then, get this! I had to teach for a whole hour and a half, and I have to do it twice a week! And all I get in return is free school and a paycheck and health insurance. I can barely afford to go to bar night AND trivia night some weeks. Some night I am only getting 708 hours of sleep and barely have time to grade papers, take a nap, and make a bunch of stupid posters that are self-mocking and make me look childish. What's the deal? Good thing I've read Marx, because he was truly talking about me!

"Workers of the World Unite!"

Gerald Graf

"First year composition programs, whose mission is to provide students with the academic metadiscourse needed to negotiate the discourses of the different disciplines, are generally too marginal, low in prestige, and lacking in intellectual focus and coherence to carry out this mission. I've found that students in my composition courses see them not as a guide to their other courses but as one more hurdle among others to get over."

Gerald Graf: "Our Undemocratic Curriculum." (MLA Profession 2007)

Maybe not entirely related, but at least interesting. Maybe profs (grad students) who are forced into restrictive and regimented teaching formats conduct classes without that enthusiasm necessary to get undergrads excited about learning composition.


Provost Commentary

The comment by the provost demonstrates how this SUNY university does not support graduate studies, particularly in English:

“The undergraduates are coming in, they continue to graduate on time,” she said. “We provide the courses and the schedule that they need to meet their degree requirements. I think we’ve done a good job of managing our resources and our growth.”

This provost states that the undergraduate students graduate on time. However, she completely avoids the problem: what is happening to the graduate students in English who are instrumental in making it possible for undergraduates to graduate on time. Although, as many of you know, it is possible that undergraduates are not graduating on time. What the provost views as successful graduation rates among undergraduates (where are the statistics?), are "achieved" by exploiting graduate students in English. If the provost believes that the administration has done a "good job managing our resources and our growth," words such as "good," "managing", and "resources" need to be examined. What resources? The general graduate courses offered in the English department? Classrooms that fall apart? Absent professors? A silent department who ignores the intellectual needs of graduate students? If what I have witnessed at SUNY Binghamton can be deemed as good, then, this university has emptied this word of all meaning.

The stakes for graduate students are high. The effects of the double workload are clear, yet worth reiterating, graduate students in English are impacted intellectually, professionally, and financially.

The English department remains the only department at this university that CHOSE to enforce such a workload.

The provost's questionable comments about graduation rates of undergraduates are worth scrutinizing. Again, she pointedly focuses on undergraduates, and avoids the SUBJECT of the newspaper articles--GRADUATE STUDENTS. As for undergraduate English students, it has been brought to my attention that not enough sections of required courses are offered, thus, delaying a student's ability to graduate on time. For graduate students in English, of course, the ability to graduate on time, is much bleaker. Statistics on the number of years it takes graduate students in English to complete their degrees should be available and published. Furthermore, comparative statistics about the graduation rate of graduate students in English before and after the workload should be compiled by the English department--staff and faculty. Elsewhere in this article, the provost stated she does not want to change the double teaching load.

So, who should we support? The provost? The English department? A failing university system? Students?

Graders, teaching assistants, instructors of record, adjuncts, and undergraduate students. All of us are being harmed by the double work load.

Undergraduate and graduate students
should have the opportunity for
the best education possible at any university, college, school--state or private.

Whose side are you on?


What follows is a selection from the anonymous commentary. I tried to pick lengthier comments with some substance (whether I agreed with the substance or not). I also picked some more absurd ones to help demonstrate just how amusing these exchanges can get...


SUNY Articles For Your Perusal

These articles are too long to post directly, so feel free to follow the links. They are a group of articles written in 1999 about SUNY Binghamton in Workplace (issue 2.1):

Academic Capitalism in a Public Ivy by Cynthia Young

Suicide Squeeze: Calling the Shots at SUNY Binghamton by Kevin Kniffin

Beyond Campus Boundaries: Graduate Student Labor Meets Community Activism by Soenke Zehle

I'm trying hard to make this site more informational (of course with a slant: I will never deny my own subjectivity) and less argumentative. At least read the articles before continuing to attack each other.


An Analysis of the Situation

Arguably, the Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) grievance appears as mere whining of a privileged class of spoiled people. After all, I don't see a problem – students are still passing your classes, even graduating. So why are you complaining? Teaching isn't so hard, so why is it taking you unqualified graduate students so much time? You just stand in front of a class for an hour a day and grade my (excellent and underappreciated) paper every once in a while.

Most people don’t see a problem, just a group of disgruntled graduate students. Or maybe the problem is too complicated to raise most peoples’ interest and the sight of disgruntled GSIs is sufficient to form an opinion without having to go into the petty details.
What people need to see is a dissection of the problem and its presentation in a clear, concise, and simple (!) summary immediately comprehendible by an individual not familiar with all the details of the disagreement. Maybe it would be worthwhile to analyze some of the friction points.

One of department’s (and some of the posters') arguments is that teaching two of the same classes does not require significantly more resources than teaching one class.

Side note: I'm not using the word “effort” because it may incline one to argue that “you could do it if only you tried a little harder”. You may “try” as hard as humanly possible but you will not grade a 5-page paper in 5 minutes (as suggested by a previous poster). Certainly not such that a student's abilities are evaluated, weaknesses identified, and suggestions proposed that will result in the required skill development leading to the meeting of stated course objectives.
(end of side note)

The answers to the following questions are instrumental to the understanding of the circumstances arising from taking on an additional class. (Is it possible to set up a survey on this site?)

How much time in preparation is needed for teaching an additional course?
How much time is needed for office hours for an additional course?
How much time is needed for grading of an additional course?
How much time is needed for student communication related to an additional course?

Side note: The argument (raised on this forum earlier) that additional grading can be done during office hours is fundamentally flawed. The purpose of office hours is to provide personal consulting to students for which the class time is not sufficient to digest all aspects of the subject matter or who haven't developed sufficient skills to work on assignments individually. The abilities of all students attending a class are not equal; there will be students that are strong, students that are average, and students that are weak. Since the course objectives are the same for all students, a class must be designed accordingly. Optimally, the class is designed so that the utilization of the abilities of average students is maximized, leading to a work load that doesn't quite utilize the full potential of the strong students and is exceedingly challenging for the weak students. Office hours should mitigate the challenges the weak students are presented with by providing additional guidance thus compensating for the difficulty of the course that is designed for average students. If we want to consider that instructors allocate sufficient time to grade papers during office hours, we must assume that the course is designed accordingly --- such that students don't bother instructors during office hours. This can only be done by reducing the rigor of the class so that the weak students don't need additional guidance offered during office hours. This scenario certainly doesn't represent optimal use of the limited time allocated for instruction. Notwithstanding the argument about the experience or lack thereof leading to poor resource allocation of GSIs, suggesting that instructors can take on an additional class because they can grade during office hours presents an obvious contradiction: In order to allocate office hours for grading, the level of students’ skill development must me reduced.
(end of side note)

Graduate student instructors had a contract reflecting an agreement with the department regarding services performed by GSIs and compensation for those services. The increase in workload naturally raises several obvious questions:

How are additional services (increase in teaching load) treated in the contract?
How is additional compensation treated in the contract?
How does the union representing the GSIs respond to the modifications in the contract?

Is the increase of workload without adequate compensation covered by the contract? If it is, the union did not negotiate a reasonable contract for its members. If it's not, the union did not adequately protect the interests of its members by renegotiating the contract or sheltered the GSIs from work that is not subject to the contractual agreement.

The answers to the above questions are a key to devising a plan for future action.

More involvement of the union may be necessary to adequately represent the students such that a reasonable agreement can be reached. Otherwise, if the union's representation of its members is not adequate and the GSIs demands are reasonable, then union membership is detrimental to the GSIs interests and ties between the GISs and their union should be severed.
The only context under which the union representation is adequate relies on the premise that it is possible to teach and additional courses with no additional resources. (The buy-one-get-one-free deal.)

This notion is reflected in another argument frequented by the department and some posters: GSIs can take on an additional class if only they stop being so incompetent. The GSIs are not efficient enough with their time; if they improve their efficiency, they can take on an additional class. If the department is critiquing the GSIs time resource allocation practices, it would be constructive to provide guidance to its GSIs relating to improved time management resulting in improved use of limited time allowing for instruction of more students.

(An alternative explanation of this argument involves the idea that GSIs are developing their students' abilities far beyond what's required and should curtail their efforts in order to distribute attention to more students. The department is essentially stating: You're doing too good of a job with these students, do a bit worse job with more students. Spread that knowledge a little thinner.)

An undergraduate curriculum is designed on the basis of checks and balances. What are the objectives? How are the objectives met? Guidelines designed by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools are followed in the process of building a curriculum with the goal of meeting requirements for accreditation (

The academic core of these guidelines pertaining to English courses can be summarized into following questions:

1. What skills must a student acquire to qualify for a degree?
- understanding/analysis of ideas conveyed in written form
- ability to articulate an original argument
2. How is the acquisition of skills demonstrated?
- assignments (papers) and class participation
3. How is the demonstration of acquisition of skills evaluated?

A syllabus is constructed reflecting the above guidelines and an instructor is assigned (often in reversed order). A crucial aspect of the process is the evaluation of resources necessary for the compliance with the guidelines:

- What material is covered? How much time does it take to cover the material?
- What amount of writing is adequate to demonstrate the acquisition of skills? (four 3-5 page papers in the case of freshman composition courses)
- What amount of time is adequate for satisfactory evaluation of the demonstration of the acquisition of skills (minutes/per page)?
- What amount of time is adequate for satisfactory preparation for one week's worth of four-credit lectures?
- What amount of time is adequate to provide additional guidance during office hours?

It would be interesting to organize a survey of GSIs experience including the last three questions. The answers would provide some insight into the possibility of instructing two or more classes while advancing in one’s own education.

These topics should be addressed during the training of GSIs which doesn’t appear to be adequate for an accredited undergraduate program.

I suspect the number of hours of instructor’s time required to adequately satisfy the requirements of a course is higher than what the administration assumes. This would explain the duress the GSIs are under and why so many GSI seek counseling. Unfortunately, their cry for help is answered by the means of prescribing mind-altering medication. While the treatment of psychological hardships is handled well by the university (there isn’t a drug that a GSI can’t get prescribed), the area of prevention appears to be lacking.
I wonder how many GSIs are on mind-alerting medication. It would be interesting to know the university administration’s position on the proportion of GSIs on medication as a result of fulfilling their professional duties. I wonder what the opinion of the public on the topic is. The medical consequences the GSIs are facing as a consequence of their workload don’t seem to follow the guidelines in the health section presented by the accreditation board.

One question remains: What will happen next? The answer is: Nothing. That is unless the GSIs get their act together, present their case, and fight for it. It’s not going to be easy to revert some of the advances the administration has made. It would require either the reduction of courses taught by the GSIs or the deallocation of resources (number of hours an instructor will devote to course-related activities) through reduction of course objectives, reduction of methods of demonstration of acquisition of skills, and/or reduction of means of evaluation of demonstration of acquisition of skills. Naturally, deallocation of resources will curtail students' skill development. This can only be compensated for the by reduction of academic standards (same GPA for less skill/work), which may interfere with accreditation requirements and the administration has every reason to do whatever it takes to avoid the loss of accreditation.

Shattered Hopes


Hello All,
I just wanted to let everyone know that I just heard some very good news:
In the Department meeting today, the faculty voted unanimously to change the teaching load back to 1/1 for graduate students.
They wanted the change to take place in the fall, but they did acknowledge that it might not take effect until the spring.
Nevertheless, the teaching load will go back to 1/1.
Happy day to all!


I just want to thank all of you who have supported this cause. Individually, none of us has what it takes to get much done. It is only through the intersection of voices - from the GSO, GEO, Comp Lit and PIC, to Pipedream, EMO, outside evaluations, and faculty support - that things have changed for what I hope will be for the better. I personally can't predict all of the possible outcomes of this move: maybe the administration will simply ignore the faculty as well as the grad students, maybe funding will be cut in half, maybe there will be fewer funding lines, maybe there will be nothing but a lighter teaching load. These are future fights to be fought when our speculations gain some substance.

I particularly want to thank the faculty for openly standing up for us, for admitting that an error of judgment had occurred, and for being willing to work with us to fix the problems of the past. I hope that doors will remain open between students and faculty. I hope that more faculty will come to meetings next semester. I hope that more students will come to meetings as well. Open discussion lets everyone's opinions be heard (and yes, this includes those who love to hate this blog). If we all continue to speak and listen (faculty to grads, grads to other grads, and faculty to each other!), then the department should run at least a bit more smoothly.

I hope to move this blog in a new direction now that circumstances have changed. How can we work more closely with the current faculty? How can we help retain new faculty? What kinds of new courses/variations can we request that would highlight the strengths of our faculty? How will the new writing program alter how we think about funding for English grads? Anyway, these are just ideas. Feel free to send us some full length posts addressing these topics (or anything else you think is more relevant) next semester.

Thank you.



I just want to thank everyone who jumped to conclusions with us about upcoming semesters and how many classes we'll have to teach. It was a long and difficult jump, one that really worked the quadriceps, but I'm glad we were all able to make it together. Granted, while the department faculty vote to reduce the class load doesn't actually enact this change, I'm just extremely and overwhelmingly happy about this facade of progress. Whew! And I want to thank everyone who accused the faculty of impeding our campaign. If we hadn't pointed fingers at the DGS and department head with our brilliant posters, well, gosh, we might have looked silly when they both voted for our cause to reduce the class load. Have a great end of the semester, everybody!

New Activists Are Nurtured By Politicized Curriculums

New Activists Are Nurtured By Politicized Curriculums

It was no surprise to find students among the union activists, environmentalists and church groups protesting the policies of the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund in Seattle and Washington in recent months. After all, whether the cause has been union organizing, the antiwar movement or a nuclear freeze, college students have been a fixture at demonstrations for decades.

What is new is that many professors and students see a link between this latest generation of activists and the overtly political courses that have been added to college curriculums in recent years. Postcolonial studies -- an attempt to look at the legacy left by the major powers on the developing world -- seem to be a frequent reference point.

''Postcolonial studies have helped students understand issues such as political asylum, immigration, the prison industrial complex and human rights,'' said Barbara Harlow, who teaches English at the University of Texas. ''Postcolonialism has enhanced the intellectual base and helped make academia self-conscious about its place in national and international politics. It has raised the hopes for a new radicalism.''

Purnima Bose, an assistant professor in the English department at Indiana University in Bloomington, agrees. ''We have a generation of undergraduate activists we did not have a year ago,'' she said.

Read the Full Article Here

In Pursuit of Unity and Dialog

For an Organization of Intellectual Workers

I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field.

On the first-mentioned, the economic side, the working class may serve us as a model: they have succeeded, at least to some extent, in protecting their economic interests. We can learn from them too how this problem can be solved by the method of organization. And also, we can learn from them what is our gravest danger, which we ourselves must seek to avoid: the weakening through inner dissensions, which, when things reach that point, make cooperation difficult and result in quarrels between the constituent groups.

...The intellectual worker, due to his lack of organization, is less well protected against arbitrariness and exploitation than a member of any other calling.

An organization of intellectual workers can have the greatest significance for society as a whole by influencing public opinion through publicity and education. Indeed it is its proper task to defend academic freedom, without which a healthy development of democracy is impossible. An outstandingly important task for an organization of intellectual workers at the present moment is to fight for the establishment of a supranational political force as a protection against fresh wars of aggression.

— Albert Einstein, 1949

tissue of exploitation

i feel exploited. mornings, i take aspirins
to alleviate my feelings of exploitation,
but some days the feelings don't go away.
at first i thought the ennui was an allergic reaction
to my cat. then it got worse when i looked
at the stack of papers and added up the total
reading load for the term. albuterol sulphate.
atavan. aspirin. i've learned a lot of pharmacology
since i started this program. sudafed is good
for that clogged feeling you get when one of your
dozens of students says, "You don't give enough
feedback," and you don't have a tissue on hand.
but you have to sign for that stuff and you feel
like a criminal even if you just have a stuffy nose.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In the Middle

Friday, January 04, 2008
Today's Letter of Complaint: The Profession

US News and World report published a list of the best professions for 2008, ranging from clergy to hairstylist to fundraiser (!) to, yes, professor. Go ahead and read the short treatments of the job, here and here. You done? Does it sound right to you? Not to (irrepressible) me. I wrote a letter to Mr. Marty Nemko, which you can read below the fold.

Dear Marty Nemko:

I'm writing regarding your "executive summary" of being a professor. A professor at a 4-year institution probably teaches three courses a semester; he or she may well teach 4 courses. Let's say it's usually 10 1/2 hours in the classroom every week, assuming 85-minute courses meeting twice a week. Then there's another 3 hours of sitting in my office--okay, it's me I'm describing (I'm a new assistant professor at Brooklyn College in the English Department)--so, sure, that's 13 1/2 hours. Once a month, there's a couple of hours of departmental meetings. Then there are various smaller committees and meetings to which I owe my service, which gives me another, let's say, hour a week on average.

Not bad, right? And summers are off?

Except you left out two things: preparation time and grading. It takes me on average three hours to prepare for each class (some classes it's 6 hours, some it's only a half hour, if that). So that's another 18 hours a week. Then, being an English professor, I may have 2- or 3-page papers from each of my students to grade. There are between 20 and 30 students in each of my classes. This small deluge doesn't happen every week, but it happens often enough. At the end of the semester, I get around 800 pages to grade, bang, as I get research papers from all of my students. Some of them are good writers, so the grading's easy. Most of them need, well, to be educated, which means writing about 600 words of comments on each to help ensure that they don't make the same mistakes again. Any of them could be cheating, so I have to check that. There are also finals to grade, and believe me, I don't have a grad assistant. At Christmas, when I wasn't with family, I was grading.

So you see where your hours are off? On top of that: I'm returning page proofs today on a 25-page article I wrote, I have 3,000 words due in February on a topic I know very little about, I have two more articles, plus two conference papers, coming up in the next 8 months, and then there's the dissertation I have to get published as a book in the next seven years. Every so often I write a grant application, because it looks good if I can bring in some money. So: let's call it 50-60 hours a week, because that's what it's been for me, and that's what it's seemed to be for every professor I know in the humanities. Important professors do more: they deliver keynote addresses, serve as outside advisors for tenure cases, edit journals, write many, many letters of recommendation, and often chair their departments.

Finally: the pay range is way off. Some of the jobs I applied for paid $40k. This was in Idaho, sure, but still. My starting pay is in the low 50s, and this when I started getting my first master's in 1997 and finished my PhD ten years later (average time to completion for a literature PhD is around 9 years). When I hit associate professor, I may hit the 70s and 80s. When I finally hit full professor, maybe 12 years from now, I'll be making whatever counts as the 90s. One day maybe I'll crack six figures (the ceiling is about 120K in the CUNY system).

That said, I love my job. I get to hang out with really smart people--my colleagues and students included--I get to work on stuff that's interesting to me (it's not a job at the DMV, that's for sure), the dinner parties are never dull, mostly I set my own hours, I get rewarded for being smart, and, eventually, I will have excellent job security in a field concerned with something more than the bottom line, a field that values me *as a person.* That's important.

All best,
Karl Steel

(PS: on political leanings: the people who complain are mainly non academics. David Horowitz, chiefly, and so far as I know they're unable to provide any substantial facts about the relationship between politics and hiring. And certain departments--law, economics, some sciences--do trend conservative, you know.)

Destruction and Resistance at SUNY

Destruction and Resistance at SUNY
by Ali Zaidi

THE STATE UNIVERSITY of New York turned fifty in 1998, but its mission-to provide New Yorkers with quality education at low cost-is endangered. Earlier this spring, SUNY faculty finally responded by revolting and issuing an unprecedented demand for the removal of the state-appointed university trustees.

New York public college tuition increased at three times the national average-from $1,350 a year in 1989-90 to $3,400 in `95-96. This hike is particularly glaring because the income gap between the rich and poor in New York now surpasses that of any other state. (See note 1) In a recent study, the New York Public Interest Research Group noted that the percentage of average family income needed to pay college tuition at New York public universities more than doubled from 4.6% in `89-90 to 11.25% in `95-96. (See note 2) Consequently, between 1995 and 1997, there was a 20% drop in freshmen enrollment from families earning between $21,000 and $45,000 a year, and a 14% drop from those earning between $45,000 and $85,000. Meanwhile, 14% more freshmen enrolled whose families earned more than $105,000.

SUNY's crisis began in the 1980s when Governor Mario Cuomo and the state legislature enacted tax cuts, particularly for corporations and the wealthy. Together with a recession, these tax cuts led to New York State budget shortfalls. New York public college tuition more than doubled between 1990 and 1992 for SUNY students, 73% of whom receive financial aid. (See note 3) Cuomo's Republican successor, George Pataki, immediately enacted for the `95-96 school year the largest tuition increase in SUNY history-a $750 hike accompanied by a $200 million cut in SUNY's operating budget. That year, SUNY student enrollment dropped by 10,000. (See note 4)

By 1995, most SUNY trustees were Pataki appointees, including E. E. Kailbourne, chair of Fleet Bank, Edward Cox, son-in-law of Richard Nixon, and Candace DeRussy, co-founder of Change New York, a powerful anti-tax organization. In January 1996, the new trustees forced Frederick Salerno, a Cuomo appointee, to resign as board chair. Afterwards, they denied SUNY Chancellor Thomas Bartlett the authority to appoint his own staff. Bartlett had disagreed with the governor's plans to cap Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grants, saying "We cannot turn our backs on those who need our help the most." (See note 5) Deprived of decision-making power, Bartlett resigned in June 1996.

State support to SUNY's operating budget dropped from 90% in 1988 to 45% in 1996. (See note 6) In "Rethinking SUNY," a plan submitted to the New York State legislature in December 1995, the new trustees called for SUNY to become "more self-sufficient, more entrepreneurial, more focused and more creative." In a statement issued together with the heads of other New York State universities, SUNY's new chancellor John Ryan explained: "Just as the businesses and industries we support must be flexible to meet the constantly changing demands of the economic and academic marketplace, so must our own institutions be given the managerial and financial flexibility to operate effectively and efficiently." (See note 7)

Read the full article at:

Graduate Students Face Money Woes

Pipedream Article (10/24/06)

Originally published in Pipedream

Graduate students can face money woes
by Dara Stephens

As if graduate school wasn’t hard enough, the nearly 3,000 graduate students at Binghamton University are being left to find a way to pay their tuition with insufficient help from the University.

According to Wazi Apoh, president of Binghamton University’s Graduate Student Organization, the main impediment for financing their education, is the issue of residency for graduate students.

Tuition scholarships are available in limited numbers, and in order to receive in-state tuition rates, students must have been residents of New York State for at least a year before the first day of the semester.

International students on F and J temporary visas are ineligible to become New York State residents. They must pay the out-of-state tuition rates unless they receive a full tuition scholarship from the University.

These students on temporary visas are ineligible to work off campus, severely hindering their ability to pay for their tuition without scholarships. The only employment opportunities to them are on campus, where they are limited to working no more than 20 hours per week. Only during the summer and after graduation are they allowed to find a “practical training” position that must be related to their course of study.

Such positions as teaching assistants, research assistants and graduate assistants are in high demand among graduate students, especially international students, as it allows them to earn their tuition in an environment that accommodates their personal class schedule. However, the actual number of positions available is extremely limited.

“Some departments increase workload for the TAs, as it is in the case of the English department, or they are forced to stretch their limited resources to fund graduate students for only one semester at a time,” Apoh said. Because of the limited financial resources of the departments themselves, many graduate TAs, RAs and GAs are only given funding for half of the school year. This still leaves the students looking for a means to support themselves for the additional semester.

As funding has become difficult to obtain, most students depend on loans to support themselves as well as to pay their tuition. This leaves the students “at or below poverty level” said Apoh, and repayment becomes a large burden upon graduation. International students, who must pay the University additional fees, are ineligible for student loans, leaving Apoh to wonder “how they pull through to graduate.”

“Because this is a public university with relatively low tuition and fees, which the New York State legislature or SUNY-system determines, the University does not have funds to support more than a portion of its graduate students,” said Nancy Stamp, dean of the University’s graduate school. It costs the school $35,000 per year to educate each graduate student, leaving little room for financial aid. Stamp noted that this is an issue at any public university.

The University has acknowledged the funding issues, Stamp said, and has already begun to implement changes in the system. Stipend packages for doctoral students increased by approximately $4,000 this year, and the University plans to top that figure next year. The school’s ultimate goal is to be in the top 25 percent of stipend packages nationally. Last year, 750 graduate students were offered some form of aid by the school, and that number is expected to increase, as Stamp predicts the graduate enrollment will soon be 25 percent of the student body.

The GSO is currently petitioning the University to grant more full-year fellowships to graduate students, as well as to waive the international student fee. The organization looks forward to the first Binghamton University Graduate Research Day in March as an opportunity to call more attention to the graduate students’ funding plight.

Building a Sustainable Union

There is possibly some irony that once the mobilized rebellion of a graduate student organizing drive successfully storms the institutional ramparts, it finds itself turned into an institution, a legally recognized and responsible organization. Before recognition, the focus of the proto-union is entirely upon mobilizing. The end goal of action is well-defined: the creation of a democratic organization that gives graduate assistants collective say in the terms and conditions of their employment. This ideal is an actively motivating one for many. After recognition, the goals of the union become multiple, less clear and less actively motivating in and of themselves. The strength or weakness of a contract's grievance procedure, for example, will probably not motivate many rank and file members to become more actively involved in their union. The democratic ideal becomes intertwined with the mundanity of its implementation, with work that is daily, sustained, long term. The work of the union needs to take into account more than resolving the present crisis, whatever that crisis may be.

The Epic Importance of the Mundane is a great article. Please read it in its entirety if you can.

SUNY System on AAUP's List of Censured Administrations

Censured Administrations

Investigations by the American Association of University Professors of the administrations of the institutions listed below show that, as evidenced by a past violation, they are not observing the generally recognized principles of academic freedom and tenure approved by this Association, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and more than 200 other professional and educational organizations which have endorsed the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

This list is published for the purpose of informing Association members, the profession at large, and the public that unsatisfactory conditions of academic freedom and tenure have been found to prevail at these institutions. Names are placed on or removed from this censure list by vote of the Association's annual meeting.

Placing the name of an institution on this list does not mean that censure is visited either upon the whole of the institution or upon the faculty, but specifically upon its present administration. The term "administration" includes the administrative officers and the governing board of the institution. This censure does not affect the eligibility of nonmembers for membership in the Association, nor does it affect the individual rights of members at the institution in question.

The full article can be found at

Poor Writing Hurts Our Credibility

While I support all thoughtful efforts to get graduate English students a reduction in workload and adequate economic compensation, I am troubled by some aspects of this blog.

1. a "ranting" tone
The overall tone of the blog misses the mark; rather than looking for groups and individuals with whom we might partner as we try to make our case to those in power, many of the posts on this blog seem interested in ranting angrily about conditions of which we are all already aware. Being militant and strident this early (relatively speaking) in the negotiations makes us seem belligerent.

2. poor writing
Some of the posts on this blog (purportedly written by current English grad TAs) are very poorly written. I am concerned that someone reading this blog might get the impression that we are being paid only what we are worth.

Above all else, when you're fighting for your rights, do only those things that make you seem reasonable, mature, and worthy of assistance.

English Woes

Pipe Dream Article

Binghamton University Pipe Dream | English woes: workload, conditions irritate TAs, writing teachers

English woes: workload, conditions irritate TAs, writing teachers

Originally Published March 14, 2008
By Alana Casanova-Burgess

As unattributed flyers begin to layer campus bulletin boards, the underground hum of discontent among some of Binghamton University’s graduate students has grown to a roar.

The posters are an outward sign of a backlash against what a recent report on the teaching of writing called an “excessive reliance on graduate student labor” in the composition and writing courses.

The report, written by consultants from Syracuse University and Cornell University in January of this year, included two urgent suggestions: That graduate instructors be given a more “manageable, equitable” workload, and that they also be trained adequately for teaching.

The suggestions reflect a general tone among graduate students who teach writing and composition that their teaching course load — which increased two and a half years ago from two per year to four without an increase in compensation — is too much to bear.

The problem is compounded for composition and writing teachers whose work requires one-on-one meetings with students and lengthy grading on essays.

“In a perfect world, the teaching load would be reverted,” said Kelly Kinney, a professor in the English department and the director of composition at BU.

Kinney, who started working at BU in the fall, has been a proponent of lowering the graduate student workload, which she said has had an unrealistic time estimate since the course increase.

“Even though their contract stipulates they should be working 20 hours a week, an experienced, effective TA would be working at least 26 hours a week,” she said.

Some estimates place the weekly workload even higher.

According to Matt Brophy, a PhD. student in the English department, graduate students can spend 35 to 40 hours a week with their students when a paper is due.

“Graduate school is difficult no matter what, but it’s even harder under these conditions,” he said.

Brophy, who is taking two courses in addition to his teaching workload this semester, has been working with other students and the Graduate Student Employment Union to renegotiate their contract with the University.

Wazir Mohamed, the president of the Graduate Student Organization at BU, said he hoped there would be more dialogue between administrators and graduate students on solutions.

“We don’t want a campus where these kinds of issues are simmering,” he said. “They should be talked about amicably.”

In an interview this week, Provost Mary Ann Swain said there was little in the assessment that she wasn’t already aware of as a problem, but that she was still in the process of finding other perspectives on the issue of workload.

“I’m not as much in agreement with the second recommendation,” she said, referring to the suggestion that the course load be revised. “Both of these institutions [Syracuse and Cornell] are private. Quite frankly, I’m looking at how writing is taught at other public institutions.”

The report also suggested that despite the enormous growth in the University, “resources did not keep pace.” At BU, approximately 95 percent of the composition courses are taught by graduate students who are either functioning as teaching assistants or as adjuncts.

But according to the provost, the infrastructure of the University has kept up with the pace of growth, and has provided adequately for all students.

“The undergraduates are coming in, they continue to graduate on time,” she said. “We provide the courses and the schedule that they need to meet their degree requirements. I think we’ve done a good job of managing our resources and our growth.”

The chair and undergraduate director of the English department declined to comment when reached for this article.

According to Mohamed, graduate students who design and teach their own courses are not being compensated like faculty who do the same, and are also being denied facilities necessary to do their work. They often have to share an office, forfeit access to a computer and a telephone because of a lack of resources, and work on limited health benefits.

“That tells a big story,” he said. “The graduate students should feel they are being treated with respect.”

Mohamed estimated that graduate students grade between 800 and 1,000 pages for their composition classes each semester, and that the intensity of the work made having office space essential.

Kim Vose, a graduate student who has been vocal in the GSEU, has had to share an office with at least seven other TAs. The office had one computer and lacked a telephone, but Vose held her hours elsewhere and gave students her cell phone number so they could get in touch with her.

Mohamed said he has had to hold his office hours in the GSO office because of lack of space, and has also had to use his PODs printing quota to provide teaching materials for his class.

“I have a passion for teaching, this is what I do,” he said. “I would like students like myself to be given the facilities in order to help the institution grow.”

Binghamton University Pipe Dream © 2008, All Rights Reserved.

On Unlevel Ground

Pipe Dream Editorial

Binghamton University Pipe Dream | On unlevel ground

On unlevel ground

Originally Published March 14, 2008
By The Editorial Board

As a bizarre hybrid between students and faculty, graduate students know of the give and take that defines their education. At this University, however, the give seems to outweigh the take.

As Teaching Assistants who often design and conduct their own classes, they cross the threshold of real-world responsibility, yet somehow manage to go without the compensation they are due (see page 2).

Unlike much of the faculty at BU, graduate students who teach composition and writing are being exploited for their talents without given the proper resources or facilities — based on some estimates, graduate students may be spending 30 or even 40 hours a week on a workload which should only be taking them 20. Many of them have to share a computer and office space with several other TAs, and even juggle an impossibly flooded course load.

Flyers posted around campus comparing the University to Wal-Mart and claiming that graduate students are getting “screwed” aren’t too far from the truth. The University undoubtedly runs on their labor, and as with the composition and writing classes, it completely relies on them. Our graduate brethren teach an astounding 95 percent of these classes, and often have to contend with shared work spaces and insufficient access to computers and telephones.

Teaching students the art of writing is a vigorous and intensive process, and some of the estimates of their workload would paralyze professors if they also had to pass an additional set of classes as students themselves.

A recommendation for the writing program called the pay graduate students received “exploitative,” and suggested urgently that the practice be stopped — and we agree with the consultants who assessed the teaching of writing at BU.

The graduate population is two-fold in its positive impact: They buttress lower-tier courses and usher students into their majors, simultaneously bringing distinction to the programs and university which they represent.

So where is the compassion from the administration?

Just over two years ago, the University decided to double the workload from one course per semester to two without augmenting pay. Certainly, as Provost Mary Ann Swain noted, a public university is privy to a different set of resources than private schools. And certainly there is a level of obligation inherent in choosing to continue your education in the public sphere.

That said, a public university should not become shackles to the students who come here for an affordable education, and it is plain the notion that work put in should mirror the return.

Binghamton University Pipe Dream © 2008, All Rights Reserved.

Professing Literature in 2008

The full article can be found on the web at

Professing Literature in 2008
[posted online on March 11, 2008]

Professing Literature, Gerald Graff's history of American English departments, has just been reissued in a twentieth-anniversary edition (Chicago, $19). Published at the height of the culture wars--it came out a month before Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind--Graff's book brought a cooling sense of historical perspective to the inflamed passions of the moment. We'd been having the same arguments, it turned out, since universities started teaching English literature in the middle of the nineteenth century. The positions may have changed, but the issues had not. Classicists had been deposed by humanists, humanists by historians, historians by critics and now critics by theorists, but across the barricades of each revolution, the same accusations were flung: obfuscation, esotericism and overspecialization; naïveté, dilettantism and reaction. Teaching versus research, humane values versus methodological rigor, "literature itself" versus historical context.

What's happened since? Graff's new preface reaffirms his belief that the answer to the mutual isolation of competing critical schools is to "teach the conflicts," but it doesn't tell us what's happened in the past twenty years (which happen to be the twenty years since I decided to go to graduate school). Broadly speaking, the past two decades have seen a move back toward historicism from the purely rhetorical realms of deconstruction: postcolonialism, New Historicism, cultural studies, history of the book. But the uniqueness of Graff's study was its attempt to offer, in the words of its subtitle, an "institutional history," not merely a chronology of intellectual trends. What's been going on there, at the more fundamental level of institutional structure and practice?
There's no better way to take the profession's temperature, it seems to me, than by scanning the Modern Language Association Job Information List, the quarterly catalog of faculty openings in American English departments. If you want to know where an institution is at, take a look at what it wants. The most striking fact about this year's list is that the lion's share of positions is in rhetoric and composition. That is, not in a field of literature at all but in the teaching of expository writing, the "service" component of an English department's role within the university. Add communications and professional and technical writing, and you've got more than a third of the list. Another large fraction of openings, perhaps 15 percent, is in creative writing. Apparently, kids may not want to read anymore, but they all want to write. And watch. Forward-thinking English departments long ago decided to grab film studies before it got away, and the list continues to reflect that bit of subterfuge.

Read the full article at:

Writing Program Evaluation (abridged)

Here's the writing program evaluation, abridged into 8 pages. If you didn't have time to read it before, at least read this version. We encourage you all to read the full version as well.


Rebecca Moore Howard, Syracuse University\
Paul Sawyer, Cornell University
21 January 2008


We were invited to visit Harpur College in December 2007 as consultants to the writing program. That visit, along with our subsequent communications with faculty and administrators and our perusal of a variety of documents provided by the College, leads us to several recommendations aimed at providing outstanding writing instruction, practice, and mentoring for Binghamton students:

Recommendation 1: Assure a manageable, equitable teaching load for graduate instructors.

Recommendation 2: Provide training and support for graduate instructors.

Recommendation 3: Create a University Writing Program (UWP).

Recommendation 4: Establish tenure-line administrative positions and an advisory board for the UWP.

Recommendation 5: Require two composition courses of all students.

Recommendation 6: Staff composition courses with a diverse group of graduate instructors, administrators of the UWP, full-time faculty, and post-docs.

Recommendation 7: Require one or two additional writing courses in a student's major.

Recommendation 8: Provide appropriate support for writers whose home language is not English.

Recommendation 9: Establish a developmental writing course.

Recommendation 10: Provide necessary resources for the Writing Center and EOP writing instruction.


Binghamton University has enormous potential for fulfilling its social and educational mission. With the highest average SAT scores in the SUNY system, the University's 11,500 undergraduates are a bright and diverse group. Many are first-generation students, many are from working-class and immigrant families, and many are from abroad. (One survey noted that in 1995, 29% of freshmen were from bilingual homes and 15% were non-native speakers.) This profile bears out Dean Laremont's view that Binghamton can play the role for New Yorkers in the twenty-first century that City College did in the twentieth. Harpur College, the flagship institution within the University, will be at the heart this challenge, since its two-year General Education program lays the foundation for students' work in all the colleges, including their training in writing. Our conversations with students and faculty confirmed this sense of possibility, and our conversations with administrators revealed a strong commitment to strengthening the writing program in bold, significant ways.

Given the nature of the Binghamton student body, any program development must frame the generic model of its clientele not as privileged, U.S.-born, fluent speakers of English (with scattered groups that differ from this norm), but as first-generation college students, international students, and students whose home language is not standard English, a consideration that gives the University's writing program a central importance. It hardly needs to be emphasized that academic writing is the most fundamental skill for success in college and in the professions and also the one most difficult for students from marginalized or previously excluded groups to master. This fact does not mean Binghamton faces what is often called a writing "problem" in relation to these groups, but rather that it has an opportunity to strengthen the current program so that it will serve the needs of all its students.

Writing is presently being taught in a variety of ways at Binghamton University, which means the university has in place a diverse structure for a university-wide culture of valuing, supporting, and teaching writing. For example, the English department, which has the largest number of majors in the College (between eight and nine hundred), has the potential to provide a variety of writing experiences to a large segment of the undergraduate population. Kelly Kinney, the new director of composition, has gained the trust of the Department because of her commitment and her flexible style; in fact, our own recommendations for the composition program agree in large part with hers. Again, all the literature on student retention shows that small, supportive communities are crucial to helping first-generation students adjust to academic life. Binghamton has made shrewd use of its physical layout to create residential college environments in five of the dormitories—an arrangement that combines classes, tutors, faculty offices, and living space. Most important, Binghamton has the resource of a lively student body, as we discovered to our pleasure in our interviews with undergraduates.

But as many people recognize, while the University grew over the past two decades, resources did not keep pace; as a result, Binghamton is now severely underserving its students in the teaching of writing. Requirements have fallen by the wayside and the bulk of the teaching is done by an untrained, exploited group of graduate students. We survey some of these problems below.


The Undergraduate Writing Requirement

[. . .]

Our meetings with undergraduates underscored this picture of structural neglect. The six upper-classmen were clearly unusually bright and engaged, standing as collective evidence of the overall positive academic environment at Binghamton, but they were scathing in their comments on their writing instruction. Criticism, of course, is to be expected of bright undergrads, yet we were struck by the unanimity and consistency of their complaints. All agreed that they had had little or no instruction in writing (as opposed to page requirements) in their courses, including the "C" and "W" requirements, and all wished they had had a comprehensive and rigorous course in the elements of writing.

A counterpart of this neglect is the excessive reliance on graduate student labor. The English department teaches the majority of the “C” courses, but with only thirty faculty members, the department must teach large courses simply to serve its hundreds of majors. This leaves little time for grading essays or offering writing seminars. Not surprisingly, of the 66 sections offered last fall by the English department, 65% were taught by graduate instructors, 30% by adjuncts (most of whom are presently graduate students in the English department), and 5% by full-time faculty. Functionally, "C" courses in the English department are taught almost entirely by graduate students. Nor does the department as a whole show much interest in the theory and practice of teaching writing, even though a Rhetoric concentration is officially on the books. Composition specialists have described a history of being marginalized or ignored by colleagues in literature. The department prefers administrative control of composition because of an understandable desire to support its graduate students. Yet for the past several years, there has been no teacher training course for graduate students. (Fortunately, such a course will be re-instated in spring 2008.)

Intensive Teaching of Writing

Despite the existence of several fine programs and the work of some heroic individuals, Harpur College’s resources for intensive writing courses—a service needed by more and more of the student body—are, if anything, even more inadequate than the resources for teaching the general population.

[. . .]

Of the 600 EOP students, about 135-140 students attend a five-and-a-half-week session in the summer of their freshman year. Depending on assessment test results, the students are placed in writing courses arranged in three groups of difficulty; ESL classes are capped at nineteen, the higher levels at 20-21. The courses are staffed by eight graduate instructors and eight undergraduate TA’s. During the regular academic year, many EOP students live in the Discovery Center, where there are tutoring facilities, linked courses, and a living-learning environment that function as a continuation of the summer program. As noted above, the holistic academic and social environment works well to retain students at risk for early failure at college. (One freshman we interviewed from Dickinson Hall said his friendship base had simply expanded during his transition from Queens to Binghamton.) In addition to these locations, the Campos/Robeson Tutorial Center, located near the Deans’ office and administered by Linda Lisman, provides a supportive space where about 250 students a semester receive peer tutoring in various subjects from a staff of fifty.

Once again, resources for this important work are inadequate. ESL classes need to be very small to be effective; nineteen per course is too many, and the stipend paid to graduate student instructors--$2000 per course—is an exploitative rate. Kim Allen-Gleed, the Associate Director of Student Support Services, is also the summer Rhetoric Coordinator. No writing professional teaches in the summer program or oversees it. During the year, Allen-Gleed contributes uncompensated time to act as the EOP academic advisor during the regular year. In that capacity, she only encounters students in academic trouble; there appear to be no other ways of tracking the progress of EOP students after the pre-freshman summer. Of the fifty tutors in the Campos/Robeson Center, only four do walk-in writing instruction; Linda Lisman, who recruits and supervises a staff of sixty, works half time and has no academic rank. Still, in the words of a colleague, she does “a fantastic job.”

In former years, EOP students qualified for a series of Rhetoric courses that acted as “first step” writing courses; but according to the EOP academic advisor, the English Department decided the courses were no longer necessary and replaced them with the regular offerings of English 112 and 115. According to Linda Lisman, many EOP students are closed out of these courses because of limited space. What this means is that although not all 600 EOP students need developmental writing courses (many are in the program because of low math scores), the many who do need them are dumped into the general population after a short summer program, where they are not guaranteed a place.

These resource deficits, as we have said, appear to have resulted from the institution’s rapid growth; it’s less clear why the English Department allowed both their graduate training course and the “first step” rhetoric courses (the only developmental writing courses offered in Harpur College) to expire. These are only two reasons why the teaching of writing needs to be moved out of the English Department as soon as possible, as we recommend below.

Recommendations for Immediate Action

We begin with two recommendations that should go into effect immediately:

Recommendation 1: Assure a manageable, equitable teaching
load for graduate instructors.

The course teaching load of English graduate instructors increased several years ago from two per year to four per year without an increase in compensation. We were also told that graduate students are sometimes invited to teach a third course in a given semester; we met one who is currently doing this as a "stopgap" measure (in the words of the DGS) and who has about fifty students in his third course. Not surprisingly, Binghamton graduate students accept such offers, for financial reasons. Also not surprisingly, Binghamton graduate students in English are taking a long time to finish their degree.

The three-course load is unconscionable for any reason. Even the two-course load (which amounts in practice to forty writing students per semester) is excessive, since no one can effectively teach that many writing students, and no graduate students can give adequate time to their studies under such a schedule.

Harpur College should immediately declare an across-the-board policy that no graduate instructor teaches an overload. Moreover, the regular teaching load of graduate students should be sufficiently reduced that they are able to complete their degrees within the period for which they are funded. At Cornell, graduate instructors' teaching load is 1-1; at Syracuse, 2-1. Only with equitable treatment of its graduate students can Binghamton join the ranks of distinguished graduate programs, where it deserves to be.

Recommendation 2: Provide training and support for graduate instructors.

The English department has not been offering formal training in teaching to its graduate instructors. Fortunately, Kelly Kinney has received permission to institute such a course for new teachers in spring 2008 (though it does not cover current Graduate instructors), and the course has the support of the Department and most graduate instructors.

An instructor's own high level of literacy does not necessarily translate into good writing pedagogy. Responsible teachers who lack appropriate training may spend an excessive proportion of their time in class preparation and paper grading. Harpur College should continue to require and guarantee an adequate training course of all its graduate writing instructors. Departments (primarily but not exclusively the English Department) must ensure that this course is part of, rather than an addition to, the coursework for the graduate instructors' degree.

The college should also provide ongoing mentoring to these instructors, in the form of staff meetings and classroom observations. The mentors will then be in the position to write teaching letters when the graduate students enter the academic job market.


Our general recommendations concern the structure of a University Writing Program; additional staffing of a UWP; undergraduate writing requirements; writing instruction for ESL and other special needs students; and structural support for those who administer and teach writing.

Recommendation 3: Create a University Writing Program (UWP).

The new University Writing Program should be independent of the English department, answerable to the Dean, and staffed by ladder faculty. Three models are available for the freestanding writing program. First, it can be a program whose tenurable faculty have appointments in academic departments (usually but not necessarily English). Among neighboring universities, Cornell follows this model. Or the program may itself grant tenure to its ladder faculty; Syracuse follows this model. A third option is for the program not only to grant tenure to its ladder faculty but also to have departmental status; Colgate follows this model, and Syracuse may soon do so, as well.

[. . .]

Composition studies is a growing academic discipline whose PhDs are much in demand nationwide. Hiring and retaining expert composition administrators and faculty requires the development of graduate and advanced undergraduate writing and rhetoric instruction. Although our charge does not include English department policy, we strongly advise that department to offer Rhetoric and Composition as a graduate specialization. We also recommend revitalizing the undergraduate advanced rhetoric and composition courses, with an undergraduate major in rhetoric and composition. As Binghamton University develops first-year writing courses, upper-level undergraduate courses in writing and rhetoric, and graduate courses in the theory and practice of composition and rhetoric, it develops a community of people—undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty—who self-describe as writers and who are engaged in understanding the role of writing, rhetoric, and literacy in twenty-first-century global cultures and communities. Writing is not only a skill needed by undergraduate students; it is also an intellectual field of inquiry around which the discipline of composition and rhetoric is establishing a growing presence in U.S. colleges and universities.

The UWP should work in close collaboration with an advisory panel of faculty chosen from several fields. Such connections will keep composition instruction responsive to the writing that students are doing in other courses, and will conversely help faculty across the disciplines understand what their students are learning in their composition courses and what additional instruction or mentoring students might need in disciplinary courses.

[. . .]

In both composition courses, enrollment should never exceed 20 and should ideally be set at a lower number. Some time ago, the professional organizations of English studies formulated guidelines for class enrollment and teaching load for composition studies; these guidelines continue to shape responsible practice in writing programs. Both the Association of Departments of English and the National Council of Teachers of English emphasize that class size should never exceed 20; the ADE recommends 15 as the ideal.

The syllabi of all required writing courses should take instruction in composition seriously, requiring page minimums and emphasizing the process of writing and the value of revision. The curriculum and pedagogy for these courses should adopt or adapt the learning outcomes recommended by the national Council of Writing Program Administrators .

Because writing is best learned in an intellectual context, these courses should not be decontextualized writing skill courses but should instead be "themed" or "content-based" courses. Experienced teachers should, in consultation with UWP administrators, develop composition courses whose materials cohere with the instructors' own disciplinary or personal interests. Topics of such syllabi might range from genetic diversity to Chinese literature in translation. At both Syracuse and Cornell, a shared syllabus is available for first-time teachers. At Cornell the English Department offers several multi-section courses, supervised by faculty course leaders, with titles like “Cultural Studies” and “The Mystery in the Story.” At Syracuse the shared syllabus addresses issues of cultural diversity. All course syllabi should be reviewed by UWP administrators, and ongoing faculty development should assure that the composition courses are using the theme to provide materials for student writing, not to be the focus of the course in itself. The UWP will need to work with the university registrar to assure that when students sign up for composition courses, they know what the theme of the chosen section will be. (Cornell uses a ballot system, whereby students list five choices in order of preference and are then placed into available courses by computer. In this way certain courses are encouraged each year by “natural selection,” a process that also trains instructors to draft lucid and appealing descriptions.)

[. . .]

Finally, we recommend that the UWP appoint a fixed number of post-docs with distinguished records of achievement in academic graduate programs for no more than two or three years, with a teaching load of no more than four courses a year. This will attract high-quality post-docs because they will be able to continue their research while acquiring pedagogical experience, making them attractive as eventual candidates for tenure-track positions. As appropriate, post-docs may receive course release for pedagogical projects, such as surveys of writing or designs for special programs. The hiring of post-docs should be a collaboration of UWP directors and the departments that represent the disciplines in which post-doc candidates have trained.

[. . .]

Recommendation 9: Establish a developmental writing course.

Students whose placement tests indicate they are not ready for college composition instruction should have the option of a preparatory course (usually labeled a "basic" or "developmental" writing course). Some universities do not offer this instruction themselves but instead partner with a local community college whose developmental writing courses transfer into the university. Others (including Syracuse) offer developmental writing through their writing centers: professional tutors conduct one-on-one credit-bearing tutorials that accompany regular composition instruction, so that developmental writers take the regular courses but get extra help while doing so. Most universities offer their own developmental writing as part of their writing program. Developmental writing courses necessarily have a lower enrollment cap than do regular composition courses; 12-15 students is standard.

[. . .]

Whether the UWP will allow exemptions from the writing requirement, and if so, how many. Exemptions at other universities are made on the basis of AP credit, CLEP credit, ACT or SAT test scores, or placement testing. We recommend that placement testing be used only for placement in the most appropriate starting course but that it not be used to waive the composition requirement. We also recommend against the substitution of CLEP credit or ACT or SAT test scores for the composition requirement; AP credit is a more accurate measure. We recommend that in no case should both composition courses be waived. We note that as the new program is phased in, Harpur College will have difficulty offering enough sections of composition. During this transitional period, higher-than-normal exemptions from the composition requirement may be necessary; this option will always be preferable to continuing the exploitation of graduate students.