Correction: An unedited version of this article, which stated incorrectly that students had called for Susan Fuhrman's resignation as president of Teachers College, was inadvertently posted last night. The edited version of the article now appears below. Spectator regrets the error.
Students are calling for greater transparency and more ethical decision-making from Teachers College administrators, in the wake of the TC's faculty's almost unanimous vote to reject the college's proposed 2013-14 budget.
A group of students has written a letter highly cricital of TC President Susan Fuhrman, slamming her association with the for-profit company Pearson Education and lambasting her administration's recent decision to honor a promoter of standardized testing. The students also denounce the "corporatization" of Teachers College and criticize the school's lack of transparency in the face of tuition increases and large administrator bonuses.
"As caring and responsible scholars and educators, we believe that TC should stand for what is ethically just and educationally sound," the letter read.
The letter argues that Fuhrman's deferral to the board of trustees on the issue of salary bonuses––Fuhrman and other top administrators received bonuses totaling over $300,000 in 2011-12 alone––is just one example of an opacity that pervades decision-making at the college.
"It seems that only a very small group of extremely well-off individuals make this decision behind closed doors," the students wrote.
'Not the lives that we thought we'd have'
The administration's proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year outlines a tuition increase of 4.5 percent, which would bring tuition to $1,344 per point. Tuition and fees currently comprise 80 percent of the school's unrestricted revenue.
For the first time in its history, TC is also planning to fund 50 full-time doctorate students by reallocating a projected grant income surplus of $1.3 million and providing an additional $1.3 million from the school. The proposed budget states that this goal will be possible in the next academic yea,r even with a reduction of $1.7 million in total grant income due to federal sequestration.
But Sarah Brennan, a third-year doctorate student in the applied anthropology program, said that the school is not planning to give any of the new funding to continuing students, who often work more than one job to make ends meet.
"Our jaws dropped," Brennan said. "We were in debt up to our ears, and that money does not seem to be distributed to us at all. They say is that it's up to the departments, but almost all of the departments have chosen to give that to new students" as enticement for them to enroll.
"If there's an opportunity to take a highly funded position that doesn't exactly align with our values, it's hard to turn that down," Brennan added.
Meanwhile Steve Dubin, chair of the college's faculty executive committee, has stated that he and other professors are not confident that TC's dependence on tuition hikes will make the move to fund more doctorate students sustainable.
In hopes of ameliorating next year's tuition hike, the 2013-14 budget outlines a net increase of 5.1 percent in financial aid, up $1.1 million from last year's approximately $22 million.
Students, however, are far from satisfied with TC's financial aid packages. The college's budgetary summary acknowledges this, noting that TC often loses potential students to schools that offer more competitive funding.
On top of being a TA for the last academic year, Brennan taught a class at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
"These are just not the lives that we thought we'd have as doctoral students," she said.
A doctorate student studying education, who asked to not to be named because he feared retaliation from TC officials, said that the funding the college does offer frequently comes with intellectual strings attached.
"Basic availability of funding is part of the problem, but the reason it becomes tricky is that where funding is available, it is increasingly closely tied to administrative oversight," the student said. "It's an unspoken but well-understood rule that the conclusions drawn from one's research had better support the objectives of one's source of funding," if one hopes to continue to continue drawing on said sources for support.
The student added that this is not a problem specific to Teachers College, but one which plagues other schools and companies like Pearson as well.
In response to faculty asking for increased participation in budgetary decisions, Fuhrman stated that the school has worked to involve "relevant faculty committees." Students criticized that response, writing in their letter that "if everyone at TC and even those outside of TC are affected by its budget decisions, then every single member of the TC community is a relevant individual with respect to budgetary decisions."
‘A more humanistic approach to education’
Students have also expressed their discontent with Fuhrman's involvement with Pearson, the country's largest for-profit education company and a champion of quantifiable assessment tools for instructors and courses. Fuhrman serves on Pearson's board, and according to the investment research firm Morningstar, Fuhrman owned $272,088 in Pearson stock in May 2013.
Students said they are uncomfortable with Pearson's profit-driven mentaility, expressing concern that Fuhrman's association with the company will lead Teachers College—and the many public schools it influences—toward a more rigid, less academically sound approach to education.
"Markets make profit, not justice, and they should not dictate educational policy, research and practice," they wrote.
In January, 34 faculty members signed a letter expressing reservations about Pearson's edTPA, a teacher assessment tool designed to judge the skills of new instructors. The edTPA relies on examining videotapes of teaching candidates, their lesson plans, and student work samples. Beginning in May 1, 2014, the edTPA will be required for teacher certification at New York pubilsh schools.
The doctoral student who asked not to be named believes that Pearson, and graduate schools of education around the country, are brushing over important questions about how education should work.
"When we approach these sorts of pragmatic questions without really understanding the fundamental issues that are at play within them, things go from bad to worse," the student said.
Fuhrman has defended her association with Pearson.
"I realize that my affiliation with the board of Pearson is disturbing to various members of the TC community," Fuhrman wrote. But the TC board of trustees had approved her affiliation with Pearson when it hired her, she said, believing it valuable for a private-sector company like Pearson to have an educator's point of view.
The students who wrote the letter, however, wrote that Fuhrman's work with Perason is a conflict of interest. They cited the University's confilct of interest guidelines, which state that "where an officer has a significant personal interest in a transaction to which the University is a party… the officer is vulnerable to the charge that his or her influence within the University might be used to advance this private interest or benefit."
"Students across the country deserve a more humanistic approach to education,” the students wrote.
As chancellor of the University of the State of New York, which oversees both public and private schools in New York, Tisch has championed "test-driven education reform," students wrote. The testing program supported by Tisch, they argue, is a "black hole of education" that reduces kids to data points.
Asked about the decision to honor Tisch, a TC spokesperson said in an email that administration recognizes "the need to reconstitute its work with a particular emphasis on increased faculty involvement." TC's graduation ceremony last month was peppered with silent protesters, who held signs reading "NOT A TEST SCORE" and attracted national media attention.
For some students, the college's decision to honor Tisch served as a call to action. Now, they hope they can push the TC administration to enact changes.
"As much as I have learned so many things that make me so angry and disappointed, I have also met other doctoral students who give me a lot of hope," Brennan said. " I feel like we have a lot of power."