Teachers College students are paid substantially less than Columbia students to serve as teaching assistants and to teach in the Core Curriculum—a disparity that has many TC students up in arms.
Core preceptors from TC earn slightly more than half of what preceptors from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences earn, and TAs in TC classes generally make no more than a fifth of what TAs in Arts and Sciences classes make. And despite claims that TC’s finances are improving dramatically, student leaders say that administrators have not yet committed to a specific plan to increase funding.
Teachers College administrators dispute that an unfair pay disparity exists, but TC students say that the issue is real and one of basic equity. Justin Snider, a TC doctoral student and former University Writing preceptor, said that while he was willing to teach for free, the pay gap between TC students and GSAS students is not right.
“You shouldn’t pay people differently based on their affiliation,” Snider said. “At the end of the day we’re all doing exactly the same work, so how do you justify the different pay?”
‘Equity in education’
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which includes Columbia College, the School of International and Public Affairs, the School of the Arts, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, pays graduate students—including TC students—$6,000 per semester to teach undergraduates in the Core. But preceptors from GSAS, who are typically in their sixth or seventh year of doctoral study, also receive an extension of their full fellowship stipend to teach Core classes—which brings their total funding to almost $12,000 per semester—as well as free tuition and reduced fees.
TC, though, does not offer this additional funding, meaning TC preceptors only get the $6,000. According to GSAS Associate Dean Jan Allen, TC informed students in January 2009 that, due to deteriorating finances, they would no longer be able to offer any fellowship support to TC Core preceptors.
Allen said she anticipated that TC would reestablish this level of support as soon as they had the budget for it, but in the meantime, GSAS students make twice as much money as TC students do while teaching the same classes.
Jay Shuttleworth, a doctoral student and a Contemporary Civilization preceptor this year, noted that TC “champions equity in education.”
“It would be a good idea to seek equity in education for its own students, not just in theory,” Shuttleworth said.
TC Deputy Provost John Allegrante said that since the additional funds GSAS preceptors receive come from GSAS-specific fellowship support, the actual pay for teaching in the Core is the same for everyone. He added, though, that improving financial support for doctoral students is a priority for administrators.
“While we currently cannot match the level of support that GSAS has provided its full-time doctoral students … President [Susan] Fuhrman and Provost [Thomas] James are deeply committed to strengthening doctoral funding support and implementing a model that would more closely resemble that of GSAS,” Allegrante said in an email.
In Fall 2008, three TC University Writing instructors persuaded administrators to award them three points of tuition funding in addition to their base salary. That credit was not awarded in subsequent years.
The preceptor pay gap has led some students to question TC’s financial relationship with Columbia. GSAS awards the doctorates to Teachers College Ph.D. students, but TC is also a legally separate institution, with its own trustees, budget, and endowment.
That creates a “kind of finger pointing” when it comes to preceptor pay, Snider said. “Both parties say it’s the other school’s responsibility.”
‘An enormous amount of work’
The difference in compensation is even greater between TAs in TC courses and TAs in non-Core Arts and Sciences classes. Standard pay for TAs for Arts and Sciences classes is $5,000 per semester. The pay for TAs at TC varies between departments, but students say that it is typically in the range of $800-$1000 per class per semester.
Allegrante said in an email that there are “fundamental and important differences” between serving as a TA in undergraduate classes and serving as a TA in graduate classes, with the graduate courses taught at TC entailing significantly less work for TAs. He also said that the administration has launched a “full-scale review” of TA pay and responsibilities.
But students dispute the assertion that TAs for TC classes do less work than their counterparts for Arts and Sciences classes. Many said that the responsibilities for TAs at TC are not clearly defined—in contrast to Columbia’s clear guidelines—and that as a result, TAs often perform extensive duties without adequate compensation because they are eager to gain teaching experience.
“There are plenty of cases where TAs are given an enormous amount of work, including basically teaching the class,” Ruaridh MacLeod, a CC preceptor and former University Senator from TC, said. “Professors deliberately abuse this kind of opportunity, because people … have to get some teaching experience on their CV.”
TC Student Senate President Vikash Reddy said that even though requirements for TAs are unclear, he’s sure that they’re being exceeded.
‘They won’t even bother’
Last March, the TC Student Senate met with Fuhrman—who recently signed a new five-year contract to remain president of TC—and, according to those present, Fuhrman agreed that pay levels for preceptors and TAs were not ideal. Some students are skeptical of the school’s commitment to change, though, noting that TC administrators have touted TC’s improved financial situation without making any concrete commitments to increase funding.
“They have no interest whatsoever in following up on these vague promises,” MacLeod said.
Fuhrman has publicly embraced the goal of improving funding for doctoral students, which several students described as lagging behind that of peer education schools. Currently, 10 percent of TC doctoral students receive full funding, and Fuhrman said in her recent State of the College address that she wants to see all students receive full funding.
“There are members of the administration who are very committed to seeing a change,” Reddy said.
But many students have questioned whether administrators are serious about improving pay for preceptors. In her last State of the College address, Fuhrman said that “we have restored TC’s financial health” and announced a 30 percent increase in fundraising and a strong endowment performance in the last fiscal year.
Joshua Warren, a TA and student life chair in the TC senate, said this increased revenue may not make much of a difference to students.
“It’s a lot of money that’s going around, but not to the teachers … at least not to the adjuncts and not to the TAs,” Warren said.
Warren and others also cited a lack of transparency about TA positions.
“Everyone’s kind of running their own ship,” Warren added. “The way the information flows isn’t always as transparent as we’d like it to be.”
MacLeod said that administrators’ claims that they don’t have the resources to improve pay are “patently false.”
“The history alone suggests they won’t even bother,” MacLeod said.