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Disclosure: The author is currently a graduate part-time instructor, or GPTI, and will be teaching PHIL 2160 — Ethics and Information Technology — in Spring 2020.
For Part 1, click here.
Welcome back, class!
As we discussed last time, it doesn’t seem like CU really cares about your lower-division education. Many of your lower-division courses are taught by GPTIs, and while most GPTIs do care about you and your education, there are no campus-wide policies to make sure that these instructors are trained to teach you. We briefly mentioned some possible ways to change this — mandatory pedagogy class, apprenticeship with experienced faculty — but I wasn’t optimistic that any such policies would be enacted. Why not? Money.
Mandating classes in pedagogy for future-GPTIs requires trained faculty to teach such classes. To do so, we’d have to pay for the extra courses taken on by these faculty members, or at least pay to hire new faculty. We’d also need some up-front investment to pay them for designing new courses. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of faculty members getting a lump sum of $5,000 to design a course, as well as faculty getting a “course reduction” — the ability to teach one less class one semester, without a decrease in pay — for designing a course. (And for full disclosure, I was able to convince the university to pay me $500 for designing CU Boulder’s very own Philosophy and Sports course.) None of this would require an exorbitant investment, and pales in comparison to some things our university spends money on, such as the $5 million we recently spent for branding RTD busses, but it wouldn’t be free.
What about an apprenticeship program?
Clearly, we need to pay faculty who take on apprentices. Any meaningful apprentice program requires a lot of work from the instructor, both when they explain their process step-by-step to early apprentices and when they consistently observe and evaluate their more experienced apprentices. This amount of work couldn’t be done for free, and contrary to popular belief, most faculty are not bringing home an incredible salary (though some are), especially given Boulder’s high cost of living.
It’s not just the faculty who’d need extra compensation, it’s the graduate workers too. Much like in the K-12 system and many other non-educational industries, CU should pay for this required on-the-job training. Without paid training on how to be a GPTI, only the already-wealthy would be able to survive graduate school to become your instructors. We don’t need even more rich folks telling us what to do, do we?
Let’s talk about graduate worker compensation a bit more broadly. Simply put, the graduate workers who teach your classes are paid an unacceptably low salary, which hurts you. (And us. But also you.)
“Without paid training on how to be a GPTI, only the already-wealthy would be able to survive graduate school to become your instructors.”
As the Daily Camera recently reported, not only are some undergraduates food insecure (a problem that the university drastically needs to solve), but some of your GPTIs are food insecure as well. The problem is so bad that the Committee on Rights and Compensation — CU Boulder’s graduate labor union, of which I am a proud organizer — organizes a food assistance program for graduate students in need. If you are financially stable and want to help your instructors and, derivatively, your fellow undergraduates, you might consider donating to the food fund.
While graduate teacher salaries have risen dramatically since the CRC formed in 2016 to push this issue (among others) with university administrators, it’s still far below the cost of living in Boulder, and the situation is even worse when your instructors have to pay the university close to 10% of their paycheck to be eligible to teach you. I know folks who have had to sleep in their offices or their cars (and not all of us have offices or cars). Those of you reading may have been taught by one of these folks. If those who teach your lower-level courses are preoccupied with how they will feed themselves or how they’ll make enough money to survive, do you think you’ll get the quality education that you deserve?
The poor compensation doesn’t only impact the GPTIs who do teach your classes, but it impacts who becomes your instructors in the first place.
It should come as no surprise that CU Boulder is quite white; per CU’s Data Analytics, the “racial/ethnic diversity” of 2019 first-years was 28.2%. For graduate students — of which GPTIs are a proper subset — the number is 17.1%. Graduate students are also disproportionately more male than our first-year undergraduates: 57.2% versus 50.7%. While not fully explained by compensation, it plays a role. According to the American Association of University Women, not only are women more likely to have student loan debt than men, but their average student loan debt is higher as well. The Brookings Institution not only tells us that black college graduates have more debt straight out of school than their white counterparts, but that this discrepancy increases as time goes on. Why would those that are already financially unstable want to go to CU for a graduate program when CU doesn’t pay them a livable wage? If we want a more diverse CU, all instructors should be paid livable wages.
The university is complex, and there’s never enough money to go around. Well, unless you need to build a symbolic-yet-physical bridge between buildings or pay a fired football coach, I guess. And thanks in no small part to Regent Heidi Ganahl — one of the nine elected officials who have control over the University of Colorado System — successfully leading the charge against Prop CC, next year we’ll have a lot less state funding than we otherwise could have. With all that being said, we can and should devote more to you and your education. That’s what we’re here for, right?
Let me leave you with some homework. What might it look like if CU cared about your education? And what are you going to do to make it happen?
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alex Wolf-Root at firstname.lastname@example.org.