Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dr. Pot and Mr. Kettle

The path of self-righteous pontification and holier-than-thou witch-hunting is fraught with peril. Around every corner lies another glass house through which a stone may be thrown, thus exposing one's own hypocrisy to the world.

For example, back in December, Associate Dean of the WSU College of Liberal Arts, T.V. Reed, roundly condemned Wal-Mart for lawsuits that alleged the retailer pressured its employees to work off the clock for no pay.

Today, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported that the WSU School of Communication, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts, has not been paying graduate teaching assistants for "volunteer" work that they have done. One WSU department chair referred to the practice as "exploitation". That sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Several graduate students at Washington State University have not been paid for their teaching assistant work. David Cuillier and Yvonnes Chen are Ph.D. students in the School of Communication who have performed what they call “volunteer TA” work above and beyond their regular TA assignments.

Neither was paid for their labors, Cuillier and Chen said.

Department of Foreign Languages Chairman Eloy Gonzalez expressed surprise at the existence of unpaid teaching work. “Frankly, to have a student work all semester and not be paid is nothing but exploitation.”

Gonzalez’ department is not known on campus for having a large budget.

Graduate students working as TAs are paid about $12,000 per year and receive a tuition waiver as further compensation for their TA assignment, according to figures from the Graduate School.

Most communication graduate students teach freshman level courses. It is useful to have experience teaching not just at the freshman level, but at the junior and senior level when communication students finish their doctorates and look for work elsewhere, Cuillier and Chen said.

I taught two 400-level classes last spring for free because they helped me look good on the job market this year,” Cuillier said. “The system takes advantage of you, but you are getting an education at the same time.”

The volunteer teaching work and associated experience at the upper division level helped Cuillier garner the offer of a tenure-track position at the University of Arizona, where he will start working next school year, he said.

Cuillier had permission from his program to teach a class at the University of Idaho last spring, in addition to paid teaching at the freshman level — and teaching two senior level courses without pay.

Chen is a paid TA and a volunteer-TA this semester. In Chen’s case, the volunteer work consists only of assisting a faculty member teaching an upper-division course.

We do volunteer-TAs for professional classes so you get experience and letters of recommendation for your job search,” Chen said.

Neither Cuillier nor Chen have complained about the volunteer work, which they regard as beneficial to them and acceptable by the standards of the School of Communication.

Most communication graduate students are not volunteer teaching, said Alex Tan, director of the School of Communication. “Occasionally, we have TAs teaching, and they don’t get paid,” Tan said Tuesday. “But that’s not the normal procedure … we’ve done it for emergencies … it’s happened maybe two or three times” beyond the cases of Cuillier and Chen.

“Everything we do here is above board,” Tan said.

The notion of TAs teaching or helping to teach classes for which they are not paid distresses Howard Grimes, dean of the Graduate School at WSU.

“The Graduate School will do a full investigation,” Grimes said this week.

The School of Communication is housed within Liberal Arts. The dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Erich Lear, concurred with the need for an investigation.

Other directors and chairpersons across WSU expressed surprise Wednesday at the existence of volunteer teaching work on campus. Faculty leaders of the School of Economic Sciences, School of Electrical Engineering, Department of History, Department of Statistics, Department of Chemistry and the General Education Program said they have no graduate students teaching or helping to teach semester-long courses without pay.

The College of Veterinary Medicine, which works within a complex infrastructure, has a variety of different types of TA and teaching-related work. But all students who teach are compensated through stipends for their work, CVM spokesman Darin Watkins said.

Keith Blatner, chairman of Natural Resource Sciences, said weekend field trips sometimes create the need for “extra hands” and graduate students are asked to help as informal teaching assistants.

“But our policy is to pay them time-slip (by the hour) for what they do,” Blatner said.
Wow, what a radical concept. People taking jobs that pay less than a "living wage", with an employer that "takes advantage of them", without complaint, in order to gain experience and get a better paying job somewhere else. Where's the outrage?

As Moliere wrote in Le Misanthrope, "One should examine oneself for a very long time before thinking of condemning others."

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1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

It does seem ill timed. I wonder who leaked the information. If the student T.A.'s didn't file a complaint, I wonder who did?