Give student instructors the support they need

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: GSIs, TAs are necessary for any department’s long-term success; they should be treated as such

Illustration of a person who is a student and a teacher
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

Related Posts

After years of working for 20% full-time employment without child care benefits, tuition and fee remissions, student instructors in the electrical engineering and computer sciences, or EECS, department are finally receiving the benefits they deserve.

While this is a significant step in the right direction for the EECS department, the futures of student instructors in other departments remain uncertain. As the percentage of student instructors employed for less than 25% of a full-time schedule continues to increase, campus administrators need to be more mindful of their needs. 

There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes of a classroom to fulfill all the tasks required of a GSI or TA, so it is crucial that the university reevaluates the distribution of work between teaching, research and service. If the goal is to serve the long-term needs of the department, student instructors should feel valued, not burnt out. Being an efficient instructor involves meticulous prepping, teaching and grading — these responsibilities are intellectually demanding and often extend beyond a mere eight-hour workweek.

Considering that any higher education institution is primarily focused on teaching students, it follows that the university should offer benefits for student instructors so that they feel motivated to work in their departments. Not compensating them with tuition and fee remissions sends the message that the university doesn’t value teaching as much as research. 

Of course, research is another large facet of this institution, and the faculty who conduct said research will definitely be treated differently from GSIs or TAs. But that difference shouldn’t come at the cost of treating student instructors as less than — the university needs to establish clear benefits for all student instructors moving forward to ensure a quality education.

If campus administrators believe it’s in a student instructor’s best interest to be employed at less than 25% full time, then more measures should be implemented in order to ensure that academic performance won’t be compromised. The campus should look into relying more on full-time faculty members to alleviate student instructors’ workloads or lessening their teaching responsibilities.

Economic hardships are not the only factors that contribute to stress for graduate students. According to a study of UC doctoral students, about 13% become parents by the time they graduate. The previously denied child care benefits not only contribute to an economic strain on student parents and dissuade them from pursuing doctoral degrees, but this lack of benefits also makes it seem as though they’re less valued by the university.

It’s great that the campus has finally caught up on the resources deserving unto these student instructors. Hopefully, administrators will now be able to reassess student instructors’ workloads and finally provide them the compensation they deserve.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2020 opinion editor, Simmy Khetpal.