September 26, 2003

Student-Faculty Ratio at Yale

Eight members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee sent a letter to parents of undergraduates in late August, condemning a 'crisis of mentorship' at Yale and claiming that the University falsely reported its student-faculty ratio in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

-- Jessica Feinstein, "Students challenge Yale prof statistics"

More evidence in support of the admittedly shocking notion that Yale is not the best (or at least, not the happiest) of all possible worlds. Someone from the Yale Insider has sent me the above-linked item, which I find rather interesting.

"Citing statistics from a yet unpublished study conducted in 2002-03 by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization," the Yale students

decried the University's supposedly heavy reliance on non-tenure track and graduate instructors. Yale's dependence on 'transient' faculty and graduate instructors has hindered students' ability to find advisors and adequately discuss course material, the students said in the letter.

The letter's authors claim that "47 percent of faculty listed as primary instructors in the spring 2003 semester were non-tenure track and graduate instructors." They further state that "Yale's student-faculty ratio is 9.5 to 1, rather than the 7 to 1 ratio cited in U.S. News and World Report's annual survey." Dean Richard Brodhead disputes the claims, calling the letter "dishonest" and stating that "only 7 percent of classes have a graduate student as the primary instructor." He also objects to the term "transient" as applied to non-ladder faculty. Likewise, Jon Butler, chair of the history department, "said the History Department views its lector contracts, which range from one to three years in length and are frequently renewed, as long-term relationships." (A one-year contract as a long-term relationship? Butler, meet Kipnis).

I am reminded of the AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment Press Release, which I blogged about here. At the end of that document, the committee put forth the following proposal:

Additional Request for AHA Council Action:

The AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment requests that the OAH Executive Board/AHA Council vote on the following action. We believe that this action has potential for moving for change in many places and without major long-range organizational effort.

That the OAH Executive Board/AHA Council contact all college accrediting organizations and all journals and media that list colleges and universities by various criteria and ask them to include the following information in their reports:

- number and percentage of part-time/adjunct faculty

- number and percentage of courses taught by part-time/adjunct faculty

This is a matter of public information to which prospective students and their families are entitled as a matter of consumer protection.

Take it to the tuition-payers, in other words. Consumer protection is probably one of the more promising avenues to pursue.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at September 26, 2003 12:14 AM

I agree that consumer protection is a crucial route to pursue. I'm always going on about the importance of accoutability and ethics in the professoriate, and pursuing consumer protection complaints against universities would increase pressure for this kind of accountability. Universities like to think of themselves as somehow above all of that . . . shunning a consumerist ethic (while, at the same time, signing up large soda companies to fund their campuses) and claiming to be interested in the virtues of higher education. The reality is that students' rights are being trampled and they are being handed the short end of the stick all the time in terms of faculty contact. This is not to say that adjuncts are not as competent at their jobs, but they are not supported in their work in the way that tenure-stream and tenured professors are. What's more, adjuncts often are running between several jobs just to make ends meet. Many are not paid to meet with students and some don't get paid for prep time. How many don't even have offices on campus? Although people historically have seen these as labor issues, they are issues pertaining to student rights as well. So, kudos to you, Invisible Adjunct, for writing about this, which is an issue that is very important to me (

Posted by: Academy Girl at September 26, 2003 01:13 AM

Until the study is formally released, together with details of how it is done, this is still pure speculation. ( citing stuff form an UNPUBLISHED study? how did they get it? )

The claim that 47% of faculty listed are made up of non-tenure track and grad. student appears to be rather high. I wonder there is a break down into non-tenure track and grad. students. Seems like a sensible thing to do, at least it gives a comparison with Yale's official figure of 7% teaching done by grad. students.

I am doubtful that Yale will lie about something like this. If this was indeed true, I am sure schools like Princeton,Brown,Harvard, etc will capitalise on it a long time ago, considering how they all want the best students. And no, I doubt there is some mass conspiracy.

Posted by: Passing_through at September 26, 2003 01:16 AM

I too might as well trust what the Yale administration has to say. Because I don't believe in it. Remember the ignorant children in Peter Straub's Ghost Story? The ones who didn't believe in a world beyond their small country county? That's how I tend to feel about Yale.

I drove through New Haven a while back and didn't see any sign of this so-called "Yale." It looked a lot like Bridgeport to me, the Bridgeport described by David Foster Wallace in Infinite Jest as the "armpit of the Northeast."

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at September 26, 2003 01:39 AM

About the 47% . . . I know a place (not Yale) where it's about 67% . . .

If Yale's at 47, I'm not a bit surprised.

Posted by: Academy Girl at September 26, 2003 03:26 AM

Passing Through,
It's true that the study hasn't been published yet. But of course, publication will not make the numbers any more or less valid. So once the study is published, the figures will still be open to dispute.

The students say they got the numbers by going through the course catalogs.

"I am doubtful that Yale will lie about something like this."
I don't doubt that Yale and many, many other schools report student-faculty ratio based on the definition of "faculty" as full-time faculty. It's not so much lying as selectively reporting.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at September 26, 2003 08:40 AM

My main point is that Yale's competitiors would have caught up with this a long time ago and reported this. Princeton admissions was suspected of hacking Yale's website for admissions info. some time back. If they are willing to go that far, isnt it very likely that all top schools keep one eye on the competition, thus keeping everyone relatively honest? This information is public information. If a couple of students reading the course catalogue can come up with this number, shouldnt Yale's competitors be able to do the same as well?

Yale does not have a monopoly on prestigue. There is competition between Yale and other elite colleges, as well as up and comming colleges who want to make a name for themselves. Consumer protection comes in the form of this competition.

As for the published study, its not the numbers that are of interest, its how they were derived. For example, in many of the sciences, lower division labs are conducted by TAs even though the class is formally taught by a professor and assisted by some post-doc on occasion. The professor is responsible for designing the experiments, tests, lecturing. The TAs are the ones in the labs supervising, making sure safety procedures are done, answering questions, etc. Post-docs, if any, are the ones usually supervise the lab-prep. (This isnt as easy as it looks, think safety)
In this case, counting the TAs as "primary instructors" isnt quite accurate. The labs usually accomodate under 20 people in each section. In a large university, this can be as many as 12 sections a day , 5 days a week. For the most part, the TA just follows instuctions in the book, tell people how to operate the machines, make sure nobody gets hurt. This is unlike say teaching a history class where there is more prep. involved and lecturing. Thus any such studies should carefully document these "special cases".

Posted by: Passing_through at September 26, 2003 10:22 AM

Just following up on Passing_through's comment -- it matters which classes are at issue here. There are a number of classes which are both very common, but for which there's just no need to have tenue-line faculty teaching: 1st-year foreign language instruction, freshman comp, any math course at or below the level of linear analysis. Almost every student at a university like Yale will take several such classes, so we can expect there to be lots of sections of them, so that might swell the number of courses that are officially taught by non-tt faculty.

The worry should be more about what kinds of courses are getting adjuncted, rather than that a whole bunch of 'em are. I don't think it's a particularly bad thing when a department turns over a lot of its 'service' courses to adjuncts. But when all its 100-level course, including ones that should be gateways into the major, are being taught on that basis -- or even higher-level courses than that -- then there's a problem. I'm sure that does happen a lot, and that it's a bad thing -- I'm just saying you can't really tell from these percentages what the situation really is.

Also, how are visiting faculty who are really visiting faculty scored? They are transient, obviously, but in a very different way than adjuncts and not-really-visiting-visiting-assistant-professors are.

Posted by: JW at September 26, 2003 11:20 AM

Chun -

Being from Connecticut myself, I think you must have seen Southern Connecticut State. Yale is easy to miss, being such a tiny school, but SCSU is the real intellectual cornerstone of that town.

At my school, a "least competitive" liberal arts teaching school, the administration does play with the percentage of part-time instructors numbers, especially since we are hovering around 50% of our classes being taught by adjuncts.

Posted by: better left nameless at September 26, 2003 04:59 PM

1. Well, maybe the reason we're seeing this stuff about Yale is BECAUSE Princeton has planted the story. So it's probably not a good argument to say "If we haven't seen this already, it's probably not true".

2. Maybe the students were counting different classes or talking about the actual undergrad experience. Or to put it differently, maybe the students' statistical model was MORE accurate rather than less. Maybe it was about the average undergrad student and the classes he/she/it took, rather than an analysis of all the classes offered (regardless of class size).

Posted by: Zizka at September 26, 2003 11:31 PM

Posted by: Passing_through at September 27, 2003 01:13 PM

Oops sorry. didnt mean to do that .

Posted by: Passing_through at September 27, 2003 01:13 PM

Well, probably both cooked the numbers somehow. But I went to Yale, grad and undergrad, and the GESO numbers seem way off to me, further off than the administration's, and in my experience GESO tended to lie.

Posted by: The Boy Professor at October 9, 2003 01:35 AM