Tuesday, September 2, 2008

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.

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