Graduate Student Instructors often affect undergraduate education as much as their professors do. GSIs can be responsible for teaching new material, answering students” questions and grading tests and homework. At a university where GSIs play such an integral role in undergraduate education, it is the responsibility of the University to ensure that it hires the most qualified of the candidates for any position. The new College of Literature, Science and the Arts policy of providing block grants to LSA departments for the purpose of funding GSIs could be detrimental to any efforts made to improve the quality of GSIs at the University.
Now that the various departments have been awarded a limited amount of money with which to cover the expense of hiring GSIs and are potentially making hiring decisions with the thought that that department can retain whatever money it does not spend on supporting those GSIs there will be a high pressure to find the “cheapest” GSIs possible. The cheapest GSIs are the ones that come from Michigan and are doctoral candidates, because they cost less to hire. While faculty received an average of a 5.1 percent increase in pay last year, this new LSA policy shows that the University may start bargain hunting for the non-faculty instructors that assume as many of the responsibilities of faculty when it comes to undergraduate instruction.
Many of the most qualified GSIs working at the University have been out-of-state and international students, as well as ones enrolled in colleges and schools of the University that are not the same as the one in which they instruct. Law, Public Policy and Social Work students serve as GSIs in LSA and have valuable experience and knowledge that they can pass on to students through their instruction of an LSA course. However, under the new policy, departments will be less likely to hire graduate students not enrolled in LSA because it will cost more.
At a university so committed to both a tradition of and an increase in diversity, it does not make sense that LSA would develop new budgeting policies that encourage its departments to restrict the hiring of GSIs to graduate students from Michigan. Providing incentives to hire less qualified graduate students over higher quality, but more costly ones is not a good policy for the University and unfair to out-of-state students.
There is no reason for LSA to turn its GSI policy to one of “bottom line budgeting.” While the contract that GSIs have with the University via the Graduate Employees Organization states that the University is required to waive GSIs” tuition, in reality it does not make any difference whether that graduate student comes from Michigan or anywhere else in the world the University is simply paying itself for GSIs” services and therefore loses no money either way. All of the money that seems to be changing hands remains within the accounting books of the University.
Also, the University should not take measures that will prevent graduate students from being able to afford their graduate degrees. Becoming a GSI is often the opportunity that allows graduate students to fund their education.
The University should continue to demonstrate its devotion to undergraduate education by not encouraging policies of finding the cheapest GSIs rather than the best. The priority of LSA and every University division should be quality instruction and not cost cutting.