The Temple University Graduate Students Association has been attending monthly meetings with the Labor Relations Team to address ongoing issues regarding unsatisfactory working conditions for teachers and research assistants.
One major problem Teaching and Research Assistants have is the lack of office space and materials. Article XVIII of the TUGSA contract states that office space, supplies and equipment are “provided to the extent necessary for the performance of duties” but are “subject to availability.”
But not all TAs and RAs have access to these resources.
“A lot of TAs have no computer to access Blackboard, which we are encouraged to use, or telephones with our own voice mail account,” said Nick Peterson, president of TUGSA. We are lacking basic tools of the trade to do our job efficiently and have better contact with students.”
Some TAs share offices with other instructors and others do not have any office space at all. Without posted office hours, many TAs are forced to limit their meeting time with students and only address issues directly after class.
TUGSA also has been having problems with the workload. According to the contract under Article XI, “a maximum of 20 calculated clock hours of service per week is required of TA/RAs for a full-time appointment.”
Most TAs teach two classes each semester, with 10 hours per class. TAs who are primary teachers, as well as those who assist other instructors, said they are having difficulty completing work within the allotted time.
Each school at Temple determines the average job duties for the TAs and RAs based on departmental needs. Some instructors take longer grading essays and tests than those who use answer keys or Scantrons.
“The administration is applying a standard across the board that cannot be used for such a varied group,” said Peterson, who is also a TA in the English Department. “They may need to deal with each department separately.”
Under the contract, TAs and RAs who feel overworked are allowed to file a workload review. The Assistant Dean of Graduate Students, Mark Schneider, evaluates the reviews submitted by TUGSA members.
“In November of 2003 several TAs in the English department filed a request for workload review, and they were all denied,” Peterson said. “Susan Herbst, [Dean of the College of Liberal Arts], has been looking into a solution to remedy the problems with workload, yet as of now, nothing is official.”
With the increase in student enrollment, TAs and RAs are forced to do more work with less resources. Many assistants do not want to cut corners in order to stay within the 20-hour limit.
Classes with large lectures take away from the personal one-on-one teacher-student interaction. As a result, most lectures are supplemented with a recitation that is led by a department TA.
“If it wasn’t for my recitation leader I would have dropped my psychology course. There were just so many students in lecture that it felt like a self-teach course,” said sophomore Laura Wallace.
TAs and RAs also feel the same strain.
“It makes it harder to get to know the students,” Joe Soler, a TA in the Education Department, said. “Still, this is our trade and we don’t want to sacrifice quality to make up for quantity.
“Administration needs to realize that we have to balance being teachers as well as students ourselves. Temple’s TAs and RAs are good and dedicated people, and we love our job.”
Danean Nixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.