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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Budget woes hurting TAs

    UA President Robert Shelton tries to address the concerns of graduate students in the UA Administration Building last night.
    UA President Robert Shelton tries to address the concerns of graduate students in the UA Administration Building last night.

    Graduate teaching assistants from all departments at the UA are feeling the strain of these tough economic times. With too much of a workload and pay that hardly suffices, graduate TAs said that it is virtually impossible to continue down this road and try to deliver a solid education to students.

    “”One (teacher’s assistant-ship) in particular, I got paid $6,800 dollars that semester, and I was responsible for 300 students and I was the only TA,”” said Katrina Nicholas, a psychology graduate teaching assistant. “”Each student had three essay exams, two papers, eight pop-quizzes, and I had to write the exams. Needless to say, I was working about 25-27 hours a week.””

    Nicholas said that particular position was in contrast to another she had the next semester where she was only responsible for 24 students. It was one-quarter of the time, and she was paid a substantial $3,400.

    “”What about the poor student who always gets the first kind of TA, while another student gets lucky and gets the second kind?”” she said.

    While one of the biggest discrepancies lies within the workload and the compensation, some departments on campus have lost their TAs for the spring semester.

    Bridget Barker, a doctoral student in genetics, said that their inter-disciplinary studies department is flying by the seat of its pants for the upcoming semester.

    “”A pool of ‘TA money’ specifically assigned to pay for our TAs to teach these tier one and tier two classes was basically cut in half,”” Barker said. “”So we don’t have any TAs for next semester.””

    President Robert Shelton, who met with the group of graduate teachings assistants during a roundtable conference Wednesday night, expressed his understanding of the difficult economic times and the vulnerability of the TAs.

    “”It seems to be a pattern in many schools, particularly large public universities, a gradual erosion of our ability to really reward and support graduate teaching assistants the way in which they merit,”” Shelton said. “”What worries me is there seems to be an ebb and flow as the whole workload continues to rise.””

    Shelton stated that the university’s state budget last year was $440 million, and this year it is $418 million. He then inferred that the university would probably take another $20 million cut next fiscal year. Although the numbers are still uncertain, the lack of funding poses many obstacles, especially for those with minuscule TA salaries, Shelton said.

    “”We have a big challenge ahead of us this fiscal year and next fiscal year. We are trying to plan, and we are trying to get some continuity so that we can tell people what is going to happen and what isn’t going to happen,”” he said. “”But none of this is an excuse for not treating people how they should be treated.””

    Nicholas asked how TAs are expected to perform if class sizes are going to increase in correlation to workload. Shelton called for a reliance on communication in order to gain a transparency that the university needs to fix the present situation.

    “”The faculty leadership of the departments needs to sit down with their graduate students and say, ‘Look, this is a really hard time and it’s not business as usual,'”” Shelton explained. “”We need to come to a compromise. Even if it is a compromise on educational quality, it might be, for the short term, a necessity.””

    Lucy Blaney, a graduate teaching assistant in the Spanish and Portuguese department, said that her department has a strategic relationship with other departments due to the high demand for Spanish classes. Blaney explained that the relationships the departments hold are one of a “”give and take”” nature. One department will pay part of the salary of the graduate student from another department in exchange for having that employee work for them.

    “”It benefits both departments. It means Latin American Studies doesn’t have to support a whole TA salary plus benefits, and the Spanish Department has a cheaper worker – everybody is happy,”” Blaney said. “”I believe that these strategic relationships between departments can exist in the sciences, too.””

    Shelton echoed Blaney’s ideas of complementary relationships between departments when answering every TA’s burning question: will there be fewer jobs next year?

    “”It might be worth looking at engineering, astronomy, optical sciences to see how these can be consolidated to make the teaching more efficient. In these sort of courses, it can be effective if you have an introductory lecture to 200 people,”” Shelton explained. “”That doesn’t necessarily mean there are less TA jobs. Instead there could be more TA jobs as departments realize how much teaching power per dollar they can get compared to lectures or adjuncts.””

    Aside from the various ideas to soften the economic woes, Shelton stressed that the administration is hearing the voices of the graduate community.

    “”I am not helping you a whole lot in the short term, but I hope that you can get a sense that we are conscious of many of these issues, and we are trying to put new ways of operating this university in to fix them, and to give continuity,”” he said.

    In the last moments of the roundtable, Blaney urged the need for the university to improve upon the present situation, so that the students of the university can receive the education that they deserve.

    “”If we don’t invest in the very basic education now, like critical thinking and composition, we are looking at a very serious ‘dumbing-down’ of our state,”” Blaney said. “”I think that it is our moral obligation to invest in basic levels of education and critical thinking, even if our students do not go on in the topic areas that we teach.””

    Shelton concluded by saying that the entire nation has been hit hard by the failing economy. However, society seems to be its own worst enemy.

    “”This society, for at least the last decade, sees no reason to pay for what they don’t get personally. Nobody wants to pay for the common good – which is education! Can you name a state that has invested more in education in the last three years?”” Shelton asked. “”It is remarkable that people do not want to pay for the common good, and it is a virus that has infected this country.

    “”This has got to turn around, and if it does not, more and more of the burden will shift to individuals to pay for their own education. This is the speech that I give legislators, to the governor, and all over to country, and it is so frustrating because nothing changes,”” Shelton explained. “”And nothing is going to happen until we can convince the tax-paying public in this country that paying for things can be worthwhile. They think our problems will be taken care of by magic, and it is so frustrating.””

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