College of Liberal Arts task force looks at compensation, potential reduction of teaching assistants

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The College of Liberal Arts established a task force to meet this semester and discuss issues directly affecting teaching assistants and assistant instructors, such as compensation and workload.

At its second meeting Tuesday, the TA Task Force talked about the potential reduction of TA and assistant instructor positions and an increase of stipends.

The task force is composed of 22 students with TA experience in the college’s doctorate granting units and two undergraduate representatives. The group was created to give graduate students a say in administrative affairs such as workload, training, professionalization of graduate students and compensation of TAs, according to Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, executive assistant in the Office of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies.

In an email sent to the task force on Aug. 6, Esther Raizen, associate dean for the Office of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, said the college needs to decrease the number of TAs and assistant instructors by about 10 percent in order make its stipend competitive with other institutions. Currently, the college hosts approximately 832 TAs and assistant instructors.

Bairnsfather said all solutions mentioned thus far are preliminary. She said the college is encouraging the task force to address and research the issues most important to them in order to increase student involvement in University decisions.

“The task force is here so they can be involved in defining what their role looks like at the University,” Bairnsfather said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Tammi Stout, a linguistics representative on the task force and an associate instructor, said graduate students expressed concern about the increased workload this may entail.

“There’s concern that with less graduate students, less professors would have TAs, and, for right now, there are a lot of questions that are unanswered, and it is really preliminary,” Stout said. “They haven’t figured it all out, and that’s going to take time, to figure out how do this without increasing the workload for anyone.“

Additionally, as noted on the University website, the average pay for TAs, including tuition reduction benefits, is about $23,000 compared to the approximately $26,500 living cost for student with no dependents.

According to Bairnsfather, the task force was implemented to give students a say in addressing this gap and increasing stipends.

“We really want to try to get closer to addressing that difference between how much money they make and how much money they need to live,” Bairnsfather said.

Brian Wilkey, Graduate Student Assembly president, said the assembly has no opinion on the task force at this time.

“Obviously, protecting graduate students’ opportunities is something that the Graduate Student Assembly cares about, but we also want to work within the frame of the administration,” Wilkey said.

Throughout the semester, Bairnsfather said students will meet and research whatever student issues they deem most important.

“They will have a couple of months to do research and come up with a report for us and give recommendations,” Bairnsfather said. “At that point, we will have recommendations and will have suggestions. At this point, we’re just studying the situation of TAs across the college.” 

According to Stout, being on the task force has given her the opportunity to better understand the administration’s work and its intricacies.

“I think the reality is, it’s really complicated,” Stout said. “For graduate students, from my perspective, one of the benefits is seeing how all of this works. As a graduate student, I kind of get an inside look to ask questions and see how complicated it is.”