Would it be illegal/ against most university policies to ask a professor if you could teach their classes in exchange for food, shelter, and some access to their brain? A lot of professors don't like teaching or want to get their research done for tenure, so I feel it would be a win-win. It would be a good way to advance myself if i found a professor I wanted to work with.

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    Without wanting to sound disparaging, your reasoning made me ROFL :)
    – 299792458
    May 22, 2015 at 17:53
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    Someone did this at my school (Fullerton College, in southern California) a few years ago, and it caused quite a scandal. The college only found out because a student had missed the final, and when she tried to contact the subcontractor (whom she had only known by first name) through email, the email bounced. It was considered a shameful episode by the administration, and there was concern about possible lawsuits from students.
    – user1482
    May 22, 2015 at 20:14
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    @BenCrowell: Interesting, do you know what happened to the faculty member responsible for the course? I imagine it could lead to firing for dereliction of duty, but I don't know how it would likely play out in practice. May 22, 2015 at 20:26
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    Food, shelter, and some access to the PI, isn't that what PhD students and postdocs get in exchange for being a TA?
    – StrongBad
    May 22, 2015 at 20:33
  • @AnonymousMathematician: The reason the actual faculty member wanted to subcontract was because he had lined up a better job and wanted to move to another city immediately.
    – user1482
    May 22, 2015 at 22:49

3 Answers 3


There's no possibility whatsoever that this could work. To elaborate on Pete L. Clark's answer, here are some reasons:

  1. The purpose of a teaching requirement is to have courses taught by the professor, not to have the professor arrange for some random person to teach instead. The administration and other faculty members would be exceedingly unhappy if they found out this was going on. Note that there are certain circumstances (called a course buyout) under which grant funding can be used to hire a replacement lecturer so the PI can focus on research, but this can only be done with university approval in advance. The replacement would be hired through the usual university hiring process.

  2. I suppose this depends on the laws in your country, but I can't imagine labor laws permit hiring someone informally in exchange for food, shelter, and conversation. No university would tolerate this, since the legal risks are enormous.

  3. Even if it were legal, it's obviously exploitation. Universities sometimes exploit people, but I've never heard of any university going so far as this.

  4. What if you do a terrible job, or stop showing up, or assign bizarre grades, or harass the students, or try to blackmail the professor? No university is going to let a random person teach a course without at least some minimal screening or oversight, and no sane professor would accept an unknown stranger's offer to teach their course instead of them. Even if you just want to be an informal teaching assistant, there's still way too much potential for things to go wrong.

You could offer to give a guest lecture as a volunteer, but I doubt anyone would take you up on that offer unless they knew you well enough to be confident you'd do an acceptable job. Aside from one-off possibilities like this, you don't have any options outside of the regular process. You could try to become a graduate teaching assistant or adjunct (depending on your background), but working under the table is not an option.

  • To expand upon one possibility mentioned: A designated TA might, on rare occasions, do a lecture or two if the prof is not available (ill/conferene). I've seen this happen only(!) in mathematics and the TA was always the chief TA (the one making up the exercises).
    – Nox
    May 22, 2015 at 21:43
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    As a TA I've been asked to do a lecture in a course, because I had better expertise in the topic than the lecturer. Is that unusual?
    – gerrit
    May 22, 2015 at 23:19
  • In my (albeit limited) experience it is. Neither in phys nor in math did I ever hear of such a reason. Stand in for an ill/absent prof for one or two lectures: yes, but nothing beyond that.
    – Nox
    May 23, 2015 at 8:57

Yes, in all parts of academic culture that I am familiar with, it would be either explicitly illegal (i.e., against the rules of the university) or prohibitively frowned upon for an instructor to subcontract courses in the way you're suggesting. Bottom line: virtually every faculty member would immediately and thoroughly turn down the request, and those that would not could get themselves in real trouble, up to and including being dismissed from a tenure-track -- or tenured -- position.

One could go into more detail about why this is such a non-starter as well as discuss certain acceptable academic practices which are somewhat related -- e.g. course buyouts, guest lectures, teaching assistants. Perhaps other answers will explore this.

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    @123: It doesn't matter whether it would be a good service or not: it is plainly illegal (in any country I'm aware of). You simply can't be an informal teacher in a university. In fact, when you are in a classroom you have a number of legal and safety responsibilities: if an accident happens, then you and the professor who "outsourced" the lessons to you would get into reaaaaalllll trouble. May 22, 2015 at 17:48
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    @O.R. Mapper: I think you are interpreting the comment as a kind of in loco parentis -- which I agree does not apply here -- but I don't think that is what is meant. While there may be few global legal or safety requirements, in any particular teaching situation the instructor of record may take on certain additional responsibilities that cannot be passed on to someone else in terms of liability.... May 22, 2015 at 18:25
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    ...For instance, to teach a course you may need access to certain personal information about the students. In the US this information is strongly protected by "FERPA" restrictions, and instructors receive periodic training and have to pass little online certifications about their knowledge of this. If a subcontracted instructor gave out all the students' personal information: that could be a legal liability.... May 22, 2015 at 18:27
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    ... Also teaching certain classes involves access to and use of expensive equipment and/or dangerous materials, which may also involve training and certification processes. If a subcontracted teacher breaks an expensive machine or improperly handles chemicals leading to a student injury: that could be so much worse than if the authorized instructor had done the same thing. May 22, 2015 at 18:29
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    @MassimoOrtolano: In the case of a fire or an earthquake. someone (e.g. the appointed fire protection officer) is responsible for ensuring that both the students and the instructors can stay safe (by ensuring signs point to emergency exits, by keeping emergency exits clear of obstacles, by ensuring fire extinguishers are well maintained, etc.). Beyond that, I wouldn't say that there is any further distinction in responsibility; instructors are students are all individuals in danger, and all of them are equally responsible for acting in a way to avoid harm for themselves and the others. May 22, 2015 at 18:52

There are two ways to go about this.

  1. Apply to graduate school.
  2. Apply for an adjunct faculty position.

Good Luck!

  • But I would be doing this to hone my skills, maybe get a publication etc. so that I could then apply to a good Master's program (and know which school had people I like) and then use that to get into a highly ranked PhD program. This would be so I had a decent shot at a research job...
    – 123
    May 23, 2015 at 1:58
  • I think you are going about this the wrong way. Instead of asking professors to hire you to tutor, you should ask students to hire you to tutor.
    – emory
    May 26, 2015 at 21:48

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