TA task force recommends lighter workload for TAs

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The College of Liberal Arts TA task force released recommendations Thursday addressing issues concerning graduate TAs and assistant instructors (AIs). The recommendations include defining TA responsibilities more clearly, alleviating the amount of grading and increasing job security. 

The task force distributed a survey to 1,300 current or former TAs and AIs assessing their satisfaction with current job policies. The task force received 681 survey responses.   

Based on the responses, the task force put together a report of recommendations, which will be passed off to chair members and committees for consideration, according to Esther Raizen, COLA associate dean for research and graduate studies. 

“The College is committed, from the dean down, to making sure their recommendations are seriously considered and implemented to the degree that it’s possible,” Raizen said. 

The recommendations included both a contract between the TA and the professor and a TA handbook. Justin Doran, task force member and spokesman, said both measures are intended to decrease confusion about job responsibilities and to protect TAs from excessive amounts of work. According to the report, 26 percent of survey respondents work more than 20 hours a week.

“One of the things that we found is that [a majority of the] time of graduate teaching assistants is spent on grading,” Doran said. “Grading is a chore. It’s extremely time consuming because it increases linearly with the number of students you have.”

Doran said he hopes initiatives, such as the contract, will help avoid unnecessary amounts of grading. The task force will reconvene at the end of the semester to review their recommendations.

The Graduate Student Assembly will look at the issue of TA rights in its upcoming Graduate Student Bill of Rights legislation, according to Elizabeth Cozzolino, GSA student affairs director. She said both the task force and GSA might face problems enforcing the recommendations.

“Even if the recommendations are expected by the college, there is no enforcement mechanism,” Cozzolino said.

The goal is to get TAs to work only 20 hours a week, Doran said, but that may mean increasing the number of TAs and decreasing their pay.

“We would love it if there were more graduate TAs, but as I understand it, there is a set budget for teaching assistants and assistant instructors, and that money hasn’t increased for many years,” Doran said.  

The survey found 64 percent of students surveyed were dissatisfied with their current TA compensation based on their typical workload.

As a result of increased living expenses, TA stipends are approximately $3,500 less than the cost of attending the University, according to Raizen. She said the number of TAs decreased by 12 percent between 2008 and 2013.

“Over time, Austin also has become so expensive that the cost of living here has skyrocketed, and we have not kept up,” Raizen said.

The task force proposed the option for TAs to receive stipends over a 12-month period, as opposed to the current 9 months.  

“We don’t have money, and there’s no question that we want to increase TA stipends, because [TAs] don’t meet the cost of attendance,” Raizen said. “If we reduce the number of TAs at some point, we’ll get to the point where we will not be able to do what we [need] in terms of instruction. There needs to be some new thinking about resources that we can apply.”