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Women Scholars and the Dynamics of Economic Recession

In economics, economy, education, gender, sociology, universities on December 4, 2013 at 20:38

From: Hard Times: Women Scholars and the Dynamics of Economic Recession by Linda Zionkowski, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

Hypatia, Alfred Seifert, 1901

Hypatia, Alfred Seifert, 1901

While straitened budgets and shrinking resources present difficulties for all of us within the university system, some of the most vulnerable people affected are graduate students. Occupying a liminal space as apprentices within the profession, students enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs often find themselves facing a situation in which opportunities for professional development have become occasions for exploitation. No department, of course, would claim the abuse of graduate students as part of its mission statement; rather, we want students enrolled in our programs to flourish as scholars and teachers and bring credit upon our institutions after they graduate and find employment. But in a climate of financial austerity, our good intentions might actually work to the detriment of our students by promoting a set of established practices—or a culture—that works against their best interests. As women increasingly accept administrative positions, becoming deans, chairs, and directors of graduate studies, we find that the situation of graduate students emerges as an important (and recurrent) concern in our working lives. The remarks and suggestions that I’m offering here are meant to call attention to the complicated dynamic of decreasing resources and increasing expectations and propose ways in which we can help our students create a manageable balance between the two.

One of the foundational assumptions of graduate programs is that they develop students’ pedagogical skills, enabling fledgling academics to become confident and proficient teachers in their disciplines. A review of graduate students’ syllabi, grading practices, and teaching evaluations more often than not shows their dedication to their classes and suggests that they prepare seriously for the career they are seeking. But three developments within our profession — the declining number of lines for tenure-track faculty, stipend stagnation, and outstanding record of accomplishments expected of job-seekers — contribute to the overuse of graduate student labor and to the debt load that causes our students to be complicit in their overuse.

Competition to retain tenure-track faculty lines has grown more intense as university budgets have shrunk, resulting in difficulties with staffing courses; the problem is particularly acute in disciplines where effective instruction requires smaller class sizes. Since a substantial number of writing-intensive general education courses (Freshman and Junior Composition, Introduction to Literature, etc.) are often housed in English departments, the opportunity for overload classes easily presents itself to graduate students, some of whom will give time and energy to teaching that could have been spent on progress toward their degree. Graduate students, of course, are entirely justified in accepting overload assignments, even to their own detriment: tuition waivers often do not cover university fees (which at my institution can run in excess of $3,000 annually), and graduate stipends frequently fall below or remain slightly above the Federal Poverty Guidelines for individuals (estimated at $11,170 in 2012). Moreover, graduate students are compelled to bear the cost of their own professional development: hiring committees look for evidence of sustained academic activity, including presentations at conferences, attendance at workshops, and publications based upon archival research, all of which cost far more than can be managed by graduate stipends and travel awards. For our students, the result is the burden of loan debt, or the absolute necessity for overload teaching, or — most often — a combination of both.

Read the article

Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

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