COLA TA Task Force extends timetable for research

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The TA Task Force, a group of 22 teaching assistants and academic instructors from the College of Liberal Arts, decided Wednesday to extend its research time for about two months longer than originally anticipated.

With this decision, the task force will postpone the delivery of its final recommendations to COLA administrators so they can continue researching issues related to graduate students in the college. The task force was previously planning to make its final recommendations at the beginning of the spring 2015 semester but will now continue their research until Jan. 28.

“We’ve basically given ourselves an extra two months over the break to finish up our research and make our recommendations,” said Justin Doran, task force member and spokesman.

Since September, the students have been meeting to examine issues related to COLA TAs and AIs. The task force is divided into five committees that work to establish guidelines with professors, define TA responsibilities, examine job security and assignments, work to make sure employment and degree plans align and set standards for TA workload and compensation.

According to Doran, they are determining this information through extensive surveys that will be sent to administrators and faculty members. He said they are also conducting student surveys, for which responses have been collected. The task force will then report their findings to administrators for consideration.

“We want to function as mediators between the COLA administration and the department chairs,” Doran said. “So, [we want to be] both fact-finders and then mediators who are looking out primarily for the interests of graduate students and to kind of negotiate between higher level administrators and department administrators so we can all work together on improving graduate student life.”

COLA executive assistant Lauren Apter Bairnsfather said Esther Raizen, COLA associate dean for research and graduate studies, supports the task force’s decision to delay its final recommendations.

“They have approached their research with an ambitious agenda, and they need the time to complete the research and analysis before making
final recommendations,” Bairnsfather said in an email. “We are grateful for their commitment to the work and for their willingness to continue working into the spring semester.”

Since September, the task force has been formatting and sending out surveys to share with students, faculty and administrators. According to Doran, the first round of surveys was sent to all COLA grad students and looks at how students perceive COLA and its administrators. Doran said the task force received responses from over 50 percent of the students. Doran said the responses are still being analyzed.

“Because of research restrictions, we won’t be able to give anyone access to raw data about that, but probably in our preliminary report you will see executive summaries of that data,” Doran said.

Doran said the second round of surveys will go to administrators and faculty members to get an idea of how particular departments are being run.

“The final report will include how administrators see things are going on,” Doran said. “So we will be able to compare how graduate students perceive what is going on and how administrators are intending things to be happening.”

Additionally, Doran said the task force plans to work with Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services to format digital tools that allow administrators to share information about their departments’ policies. The collaboration is still in the preliminary phase.

“It turns out that nobody has really pinpointed the fact that this is really an information sharing program,” Doran said. “Since our task forces goal was basically to uncover all of this information, what we have discovered is that this information isn’t just out there, and since it isn’t just out there, nobody can be analyzing it.”

Vance Roper, Graduate Student Assembly vice president, said he thinks TA and IA positions are important for graduate students because the jobs provide a source of income and educational opportunities. He said students, faculty and administrators should be represented in the research done by the TA Task Force.

“It’s definitely something that should be researched from all angles and that the research should be fully vetted out before any decisions are made,” Roper said.