How does the old saying go? Every good teacher learns as much as he or she teaches? The University had better hope so, because more and more of its instructors today are undergraduates no more professionally qualified than the students they are teaching.
Using undergraduates – instructional aides – to teach undergraduate courses is, quite simply, wrong. It undermines gains made by the Graduate Employee Organization. And it further lowers the standard of undergraduate education at the most expensive public university in the country.
IAs are paid a similar wage to that of graduate student instructors, but receive none of the benefits or tuition wavers that are typically associated with the GSI position. Thus, the University justifies displacing GSIs with IAs as a budget manuever.
Meanwhile, the University has continued to shirk its commitments to GEO with regards to guarantee of funded positions, salary and childcare. This trend of hiring more IAs and fewer GSIs seems like an attempt by the University to distance itself from a stagnant labor dialogue with GEO. Since IAs have no established union or collective bargaining entity, the University can use their labor to undermine their contract with GEO.
Opting for cheaper undergraduates over more qualified graduate student instructors also harms undergraduate education. The percentage of teaching and grading responsibilities at the University that are delegated to graduate students is already very high compared to other universities. To further inflate that number by farming out even more work to undergraduates is irresponsible, and tarnishes the educational experience for University students.
The community would be better served if the University would direct its overflow of undergraduate education labor to the Ann Arbor community. Sending undergraduates to teach in local high schools as tutors or teaching assistants would constitute field experience just as valuable as being an IA, and would certainly prove more fruitful for high school students than for undergraduates.
The University could also do more to sponsor peer-tutoring programs within the undergraduate schools. Since the only thing that distinguishes IAs from the students they teach is experience in a certain field, one-on-one tutoring would doubtless be even more effective than a lecture or classroom setting.
Augmenting or replacing an already large non-faculty workforce with undergraduates widens the student-teacher chasm that already plagues the University. It is unfair to the unionized GSIs whose jobs are being taken away by students less qualified. It is unfair to the IAs who are being exploited for inexpensive labor. And above all, it is unfair to the students who are being taught by instructors whose highest qualification is a high school diploma.