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Marxism between GSIs and Professors

December 9, 2010

In the college world a student really has two teachers for each of their classes. They have their professors and they have their GSIs. They spend a few hours with each every week, both having different insight on the topic which the students are learning about. Clearly though, the students can see that the professors have the higher job. As a student, I see that the two instructors hold the position of, in a sense, the two classes Karl Marx speaks of: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

In this situation, the GSIs would play the role of the proletariat. In the classes they instruct, they do much of the work for the professors. They seem to grade much of the work for the class, monitor the grade book, answer questions for students, hold review sessions, and much more. However, they are paid a significant amount lower than the professors.

While the GSIs are the proletariat, the professors would take the role of the bourgeoisie. They are of a higher class than the proletariat, in Marx’s views, and this is definitely true with the professors to the GSIs. The GSIs are still considered students, and are still in classes, trying to earn degrees. The professors are out of school, in the working world, with professional degrees, teaching for a living. With that, professors make far more money than GSIs. Once they hit their ten-year contracts, they have to ability to sit back and let their GSIs to most of the work a lot of the time, and still make much more money.

The one way this thought falls through, however, is the oppression. In Marx’s view, the Bourgeoisie continuously tries to oppress the proletariat by lowering wages and such, so they can continue to stay above the proletariat. In the world of professors and GSIs, this does not happen. The Professors WANT the GSIs to succeed. They are there to help each other. Being a GSI is a learning experience as well as a job. They are there to both learn more about the topic they are studying as well as learn how to express their views through helping the students learn. In this, the GSIs help the professors as well. Their job is to help the students understand the topics, as well as help the professors with whatever they need.

Through this evaluation, I have found that in a Marxian world, GSIs would represent the proletariat while professors would represent the Bourgeoisie. Although the professors will always be a class above the GSIs, they would never intentionally oppress the GSIs. They help each other while they work together.


  1. Mike Grzych permalink
    December 9, 2010 6:59 PM

    It’s funny, I was thinking about this sort of Marx-style Professor/GSI relationship yesterday morning, after a guest had come to speak during my EECS 270 lecture.

    In a way, the relationship between the course professors and the GSIs is Marxist. GSIs do indeed do a significant portion of the work in a given course, while – on a small scale – the professors benefit most. Contrary to Marxist relationships though, like you mentioned, the professors generally want their GSIs to succeed, and so the relationship isn’t totally Marxist. There are, however, other similarities you missed.

    First off, is the difference in payoff for the parties involved. In terms of overall salary data collected by The Chronicle, ( an average professor at UMich from 2009 to 2010 had a salary of $144,000, while assistant professors and instructors made $83,100 and $63,500 respectively. In the case of professors vs. instructors, the professor is earning over twice as the instructor on average.

    Second, there is a difference in intangible benefits too. When graduates do work for professors, it may not always be instructing or only instructing, but may also include research work as well. This relationship is very one-sided in the professor’s favor in terms of intangible benefits. Often when a press release is made in regards to some new research or discovery at universities, it is the leading professor or professors who are credited, rather than the graduate underlings who worked beneath them. While one would not be able to actually do anything with that press release, having one’s name listed does wonders for reputation.

    These things considered, I feel that the relationship between professors and GSIs is very Marxist.

  2. aubriem permalink
    December 9, 2010 7:08 PM

    This is a legitimate argument, even with the exception. Although, the GSI’s aren’t forced with the fact that they are being paid by the bourgeoisie, or the professors. There is an outside, 3rd party controlling the paychecks. Once this is introduced into the mix, we are then forced to truly understand the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. As you stated, there is no oppression or exploitation between the professors and GSIs, but we are unsure of the 3rd parties’ role in the relationship between the two. Overall, this could be used as a good model to explain the relationship between a proletariat and bourgeoisie, but definitely taking into account outside events when addressing it.

  3. jacobjam permalink
    December 9, 2010 7:22 PM

    I think it is very interesting you have connected the relationship between a GSI and a professor to that of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. I agree that their are similarities in their roles and academic teachers and the fact that clearly a professor has a higher standing than a GSI, but I do not think relating them to Marxism characters is that valid. As you stated, the professor has no intention of keeping the GSI’s powerless, they do in fact wish for them to succeed and achieve the same standing as the professors own. Also, in order for the GSI’s to reach the standing that a professor has, he or she must do the work that you stated above in order to rightfully earn their position. It is just a matter of the duty they have if they do wish to achieve a higher status. I can see the connection you are making, but I am not sure your example has much worth because at this point any status in which someone is considered “higher” can be used as a Marxist view. I don’t think the Marxist view should be used so openly between relationships.

  4. shan428 permalink
    December 9, 2010 8:37 PM

    I believe that Marxism holds truth to this GSI/Professor situation and this idea helped influence more thoughts about Marxism’s beliefs of relationships in society. I feel that we can relate Marxism’s theory of the manifestation of communism to oppression as a result of the addition to the quota of enrolled students.

    As you have already stated, the relationship between the Professors and the GSIs is one in which they are both helping each other, and therefore I agree with your belief that there is not an oppression. However, this commitment and reliance that GSIs and Professors reflects a symbiotic relationship that could subsequently become dangerous if one party becomes more dependent on the other. While the GSIs benefit and learn from their experience, the labor that they are providing is extremely valuable to the Professors and the overall workings of this institution. Without the GSIs, the Professors would have a lot more work to do and would not be able to teach as many classes. They would not be able to enjoy the luxuries that come with a ten year and they would not have the free time to work on books or other projects. Not only this, but without the help of GSIs, the Professors would not be able to engage their classrooms and lectures in more activities and exercises for expressing thought because of the large quantities of papers and projects that would have to be handled and corrected.

    This year the University of Michigan accepted around 500 additional students to the freshman class, forcing the university to look into more classes in order to continue to provide the resources that students need in order to fulfill majors and their diplomas. I would imagine that classes were not only added, but the existing ones have increased in their capacities. As a result, they have had to rely on more GSIs and have probably given the present ones more classes to teach. While this is only the first year, it could ultimately react in a state of oppression for the proletariat GSIs. The GSIs may begin to feel forced into providing a greater amount of labor to the University and not having the time, effort, and energy to fulfill their own requirements for Graduate school. With the growing ratio of GSIs to Professors, this image starts to reflect more like that of the Marx and Engel’s view of the rise of communism due to class divisions and problems. I believe that the continual and increasing reliance on the help of GSIs could have grave consequences if the Professors were to inflict oppression on the growing group of GSI proletariats as a result to increased admission acceptance.

  5. jjkn09 permalink
    December 9, 2010 10:54 PM

    I agree with JacobJam. In a Marxist society, GSIs would be oppressed to the extent that they would not be given the opportunity to advance with regards to their status. However, this is not the case. GSIs are given the same opportunities that the professors themselves had in order to attain the position and status of a professor and therefore be able to earn just as much. The professor has no intentions of keeping the wages of the GSIs low or for the GSIs to remain in their position, working for the professor. Instead, they want the exact opposite. They want the GSIs to enhance their knowledge of the topic through teaching others and learning through experience. They want the GSIs to be successful in their education and for them to use their knowledge for the benefit of both themselves and others. GSIs are given every opportunity to improve their statuses and are not hindered nor oppressed in ways that they would be had they been in a Marxist society.

  6. December 10, 2010 1:38 PM

    You have presented a very interesting idea here. Meshing the context of the communist manifesto and the relationship between the professors and their GSI’s is a very logical and creative connection. I think the idea here is essentially an ideal world. There will always be class competition, inequality, and other forms of oppression in society. If the proletariat and the bourgeois possessed the same connection between one another as professors and their GSI’s the element of oppression would be eliminated. It is crucial that people recognize that a stratified system of classes in a society is unavoidable. Once people recognize this reality, they can stop pushing for a complete communist revolution and concentrate on making an unfavorable capitalist system better. The only realistic form of revolution will be making smaller steps toward equality. My point here is that if the bourgeois facilitated their business like a professor they would be working to help their employees opposed to blatant exploitation. Hence, if we were to adapt a capitalist system that mirrored the aspects of a professor-GSI relationship, the proletariat would live under better circumstances and the elite members in society would not be hassled by revolutionaries.

  7. Tony Zhang permalink
    December 10, 2010 10:39 PM

    I disagree with the person that wrote this post. If the GSI’s were the proleteriat, they would do whatever the professor told them and have no power. However, the GSI’s have lots of power. They grade our Hw, give us participation points, and decide our grade. If anyone were the proleteriat, it would be the students. We are subject to whatever the professor/gsi want us to do. If we don’t do what they ask, then we don’t get the points. They are the bourgeoisie while we are the proleteriat.

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