Dr. Duncan on the importance of graduate teaching assistants

Carrie Duncan
2018

As Dr. Carrie Duncan was recognized with a Kemper Fellowship for her outstanding teaching, she addressed the vital role of graduate teaching assistants in the university's mission to foster teaching excellence. You can read her Kemper address here: 

"Thank you. It is such an honor to receive this award and I am grateful to my amazing colleagues in the Department of Religious Studies, to the generous people who wrote letters in support of my application, and most especially to Rabia Gregory, whose support, perseverance, and skills with the office scanner made this moment possible.

I would like to take this opportunity also to acknowledge and thank the graduate student teaching assistants I have had the honor to work with at Mizzou. If I deserve to stand before you today, Daniel, Adam, Danae, Andrew, and Alex are a large part of the reason why. In a purely practical sense, I have been able to teach hundreds more undergraduate students with the help of my graduate student TAs than I could have without them. More importantly they have made me a better teacher – sharing their expertise and opinions and helping me to strategize about the best ways to achieve classroom goals. They have made my classes better – offering students another scholarly perspective and giving them opportunities to talk through thorny issues or questions they’d rather not ask the professor. I shouldn’t be here – I couldn’t be here – were it not for their hard work, enthusiasm, good humor, curiosity, and perseverance.

The Religious Studies Department’s graduate program is among those slated for discontinuation by the notorious Task Force recommendations. It is a small program, after all, and tens of thousands of dollars would be saved by the elimination of our graduate students’ tuition waivers and stipends. Of course, hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition revenue will be lost, when courses that used to enroll 66 or 110 or 200 undergraduate students with the help of graduate student TAs are instead capped at 35. But I’ve never been what you’d call a math person, so perhaps I’m missing something. I teach in the Humanities and usually think in terms of quality rather than quantity. If you truly think the quality of my teaching worthy of recognition, I suggest you preserve the graduate program that has helped make it possible.

When Chancellor Cartwright was leaving my classroom after the award presentation, he joked with my students that they could spend our remaining class time asking me how I would spend the award money. They were, I think, a little bored with the answer that it is all going into my daughter’s 529 College Savings Plan and not towards a Caribbean cruise or new car. I have 16 years to save: a sobering prospect made worse by my skepticism toward many of the trends currently besetting higher education, which lead me to wonder what will be left for her of the things I value in college education. But I remain optimistic, because it is my and others’ graduate students who will be my daughter’s professors some day; who will support and encourage her to think creatively, critically, articulately, compassionately; who, if given the opportunity, will become Kemper caliber teachers themselves."