Yale union drive learns of casual teaching

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (U-WIRE) — The Graduate Employees and Students Organization, an organization working for a graduate assistant labor union recognized by the administration at Yale University, released a report this week that purportedly shows the increasing “casualization” of academic labor at Yale. Entitled “Casual in Blue,” the report, according to GESO organizers, is the first comprehensive study on the national trend of casual teaching. Predictably, Yale University’s response has been to dismiss it out of hand, citing faulty methodology as one reason why we shouldn’t trust the report’s conclusion — namely, that Yale is relying more and more on part-time teachers, such as adjunct professors or teaching assistants. Tom Conroy, Yale’s spokesperson on these issues, proclaimed that the study “makes no sense.”
We are dismayed by the administration’s response. Yale administrators have questioned the study’s validity without even seeing the report. Considering that no empirical study like this has ever been conducted by Yale — at least not one we know of — GESO should be commended for its initiative. Instead of slighting the GESO study immediately, Yale should examine it or conduct another to see whether the graduate students’ claims are indeed true. After all, casualization of teaching seriously affects the quality of instruction at Yale.
If GESO’s report is inaccurate, the University itself is much to blame. GESO had to conduct much of the survey without the aid of Yale data and was therefore forced to construct its own set of statistics. That task is expensive and time-consuming and the resulting data cannot be as comprehensive and thorough as the set Yale maintains. At the same time, Yale’s Office of Institutional Research has maintained that it does not keep track of potential casualization of teaching at Yale. The University should then release all data necessary for such a survey. This way both Yale’s and GESO’s claims can be independently verified. And we can all answer the all-important question of whether casualization has been on the rise, and if so, by how much.
The importance of this GESO study cannot be brushed aside. We now have an empirical study before us that can go a long way toward shaping the debate over the future of graduate teaching at Yale. So far, much of the debate between Yale and GESO has been rhetoric. Both sides can sound very convincing. After all, they are stacked with intellectual power and represented by bright lawyers.
Graduate teaching at Yale is a contentious matter. For instance, the two sides define casual academic labor differently, meaning there will be more than one interpretation of even a common set of data. We cannot resolve the question of unionization or other questions without the facts. Even if GESO’s claims turn out to be completely true, we believe graduate students should not unionize. Nevertheless, GESO’s evidence of casualization is a significant step forward in today’s debate over the quality of teaching at Yale. Instead of merely dismissing GESO’s claims, Yale should check the data and see if GESO is right.

This staff editorial originally appeared in Thursday’s Yale Daily News.