Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to Actually Help the Undergraduate Program

It's interesting what types of cuts our university is willing to make in order to keep the quality of the undergraduate education. Obviously education is the goal, and when you have over 25K undergraduate students they are also the priority to some extent, even in a research focused university. However, one of the cuts the university makes in order to maintain the apparent quality of undergraduate education (i.e., keep from increasing tuition even more or cutting too many classes) is to decrease the funding given to departments for Teaching Assistantships for graduate students.

I can't imagine I'm the first person to consider that this can't possibly keep the same level of education, when students suddenly have fewer TA office hours to attend, and fewer TAs (and therefore less TA time) to answer e-mail or grade homeworks. This is why I say it is keeping an "apparent" quality of undergraduate education, even if it's not really keeping actual quality. As the sole TA for a class of 40+ students, I can say from just a few months of experience that this definitely impacts the undergraduate students. Luckily we were able to hire another graduate student as a grader for 10 hrs/wk, so I have more time to tend to the students' questions, design their homeworks, and put together the lectures I'll be teaching. But I still don't have enough hours in the week to help them. I can't imagine what TAs do when they aren't lucky enough to have just one other person to help with grading! Even spending the 20 hrs/wk I'm technically paid for isn't really enough. I enjoy what I'm doing, and don't want fewer responsibilities; but I'm really overworked, which is NOT good for my students!!

I wish this cycle was more apparent to the upper level "management" of the university. If you want good undergraduate education, pay your graduate students! We do more than research, and we're often a great resource for students. When there is 1 TA to 40 students, the number of minutes they can spend helping each student is minuscule. How does that keep the quality of undergraduate education?

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