College of Liberal Arts TA Task Force report fails to properly address stipend issues

The College of Liberal Arts’ TA Task Force released its official report last week. The document addresses issues facing teaching assistants and assistant instructors in the Graduate School including murky definitions of TA responsibilities, excessive grading requirements and fears of poor job security.

The report does a decent job of formulating solutions to these problems, but it is more remarkable for what it leaves out: a thoroughgoing discussion of the problems with the current stipend structure for TAs and AIs.

Yes, the report, which is based on a survey completed by 681 current and former TAs and AIs, indicates that 64 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with their compensation based on their typical workload. However, the solutions it proposes to this problem are like Band-Aids on a gushing wound. The report suggests “creat[ing] a ‘clearinghouse’ web portal to expedite interdepartmental hiring,” “offer[ing] TAs the option to receive stipends over 9 or 12 months,” “offer[ing] additional TAships over the summer” and “accelerat[ing] receipt of 1st paycheck,” this last referring to the current University accounting practice of paying employees in arrears.

These are all fine, but they miss the key funding issue that is causing so many of the problems for teaching assistants.

As task force spokesman Justin Doran told the Texan, “As I understand it, there is a set budget for teaching assistants and assistant instructors, and that money hasn’t increased for many years.”

We understand the task force was ultimately not charged with offering budget proposals to increase TA funding, but at the very least it could have proposed a robust discussion about the funding problems and the reasons the college wanted to cut 10 percent of TA positions from future cohorts, for instance.

We hope, then, that the college and University administration will be amenable to a town hall discussion open to all students, perhaps facilitated by the Graduate Student Assembly, to discuss the real, underlying issues leading to TA dissatisfaction. We have continually heard from people as high up as Esther Raizen, the college’s associate dean for research and graduate studies, that the college simply “[doesn’t] have money,” but the entire student body deserves to hear more about why.

And to make it easier for the administration, the Texan will gladly host.

COLA TA Task Force