by Justin Natale
This semester, I have been afforded an opportunity to experience a slice of life as an instructor at SAIC. (Afford means “allowed” in this sense, not “to have enough money to do something.”) Unlike my “work” as a teaching assistant, co-teaching the entirety of the Ancient to Modern Art History Survey course has proven, in just a few weeks, to be a serious undertaking. In fact, it has supplanted my own course work as a time management priority, with apologies to my thesis.
Who would have thought that two and a half hours of lecturing about pyramids would involve so much preparation? For essentially the same pay that I received as a Teaching Assistant, I actually have to, well, work. Is there something wrong with this picture?
There are two ways of handling this situation. One dictates that I put into the job what I’m getting out of it financially — very little. The other option I’m not such a huge fan of: the high road, which requires I do a noteworthy job for a negligible price. Against my better judgment, I’ve decided on the high road, regardless of what my students say.
While completely enthused by the chance to teach an entire course, I cannot help being slightly suspicious of the position. At most other universities, graduate students who are TAs, let alone instructors, are both paid a living expense stipend and receive a tuition waiver. That’s right, free tuition. I not only pay full tuition despite my teaching position, but also work a second job to bridge the gap between my earnings and my rent.
[Insert Donna Summer “She Works Hard for the Money” interlude here.]
There is a common sentiment emerging among the second year Art History graduate students: being broke sucks. It has caused some, myself included, to eschew Ph.D. applications in hopes of finding any singular job that can replace the multiple sources of income I currently juggle.
The decision to attend graduate school at SAIC has, in effect, cut my academic career short. Should the school’s teaching assistantships carry benefits equal to those of other educational institutions, its graduate students may not face the financial dilemma I have found myself confronting. As appealing as life in academia may be, its financial realities are chasing many away.
This should be a red flag to an institution solely dedicated to the future of the arts: potential art historians, curators, and professors are being lost by the frustrations of poverty. Using graduate students as cheap labor may be economically clever, but it could prove, in time, culturally detrimental.
illustration by Amanda Sukenick
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