Administrators ask instructors to forgo stipend

Though almost all instructors in the UC system will teach for less money this year, some instructors are teaching for free this quarter.

Though almost all instructors in the UC system will teach for less money this year, some instructors are teaching for free this quarter.

Administrators in the Undergraduate Studies (US) office have asked if freshmen seminar instructors would voluntarily opt out of their quarterly stipend for teaching the one-to-two-unit courses for freshmen.

The request was made in a letter sent by Patricia Turner, vice provost for US, and Winder McConnell, the director of Teaching Resources, in order to cope with a 20-percent cut to the U.S. office’s budget.

“Given this particularly dire financial climate,” the letter stated, “we are approaching each of our seminar instructors with this request: Would you be willing to continue to teach a seminar or seminars for us while forgoing all, or part, of the research stipend attached to the latter?”

Seminar instructors are paid a stipend of $1,500 for a one-unit seminar and $2,000 for two-unit seminars. The stipends are tied directly to the instructors’ research accounts to help fund university research.

Though Turner could not predict how much money the salary reduction would save, she stated that approximately 25 instructors agreed to forgo or reduce their stipend.

The Teaching Resource Center (TRC) administers the freshmen seminar program’s budget of $358,000. The US office in turn administers the TRC’s budget. This quarter, the US office has been asked to make a 12.3 percent immediate cut. The remaining 7.7 percent will be cut over the rest of the year.

Subhash Risbud, professor of chemical engineering and material science, indicated that he would forgo his stipend. He considers the seminar he teaches a way to pursue his passion of classical Indian music.

“The university grants me the privilege to explore another side of my brain,” Risbud said. “The stipend is almost irrelevant.”

Almost all of the responses from the faculty who received the letter were positive or supportive, Turner said.

“Some of the faculty remarked that the letter was presumptuous, but it’s really very moving the way the faculty has responded,” she said. “I can say at this point that we have heard from more people than we predicted, and it has been more positive than we predicted.”

Other faculty disagreed, remarking that the letter was not only presumptive, but also inappropriate and wrong.

“It is utterly appalling of the university,” said a freshman seminar instructor who preferred to remain anonymous to avoid the possibility losing his seminar.

The instructor pointed to Turner’s yearly salary, insisting that the freshmen seminar programs ought to be the first priority of the administration.

“Someone making nearly $100,000 is trying to get people who make less than half of that to accept less,” the instructor said. “People who teach freshmen seminars are already paid way below standard. That’s like driving a truck and telling people they should drive less.”

Turner stated that the freshman seminars themselves would be the last to be cut in the TRC’s budget.

“When we were brain storming about all of the ways of dealing, I wondered if there were more faculty who would [forgo the stipend] if they were just given the opportunity,” Turner said. “People had just done it before. So [McConnell] and I sent a letter saying that in the past, some people have declined these stipends. This is decoupled from whether or not we accept their course.”

LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.