‘Left to our own devices’: UC Berkeley budget deficit impacts student instructors

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Katie Lee/Staff
Alleged reduced teaching staff and longer office hour wait times are among the myriad problems UC Berkeley budget cuts have caused student instructors.

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Alleged reduced teaching staff and longer office hour wait times are among the myriad problems for undergraduate and graduate student instructors, respectively uGSIs and GSIs, as a result of UC Berkeley budget cuts.

“We do the best we can, but it feels like we’re being left to our own devices,” said William Arnold, a computer science, or CS, 70 uGSI for the past six semesters.

Some instructors noticed decreasing numbers of educators.

Tarang Srivastava, a CS70 uGSI for the last three semesters, said the class only has 18 uGSIs this semester compared to about 25 last fall. Srivastava said due to the number of readers who grade assignments being halved this semester, only a small sample of homework problems are graded.

The increased ratio of students to instructors has made addressing students during office hours more difficult, Arnold added.

According to Daniel Cohen, a steward for United Auto Workers, or UAW, Local 2865, a union that represents GSIs across the UC system, the number of CS61A uGSIs has decreased significantly. Cohen noted that office hour wait times have become “a very common complaint” among students and instructors alike.

Budget deficits have particularly impacted instruction in high-demand departments such as economics or computer science which require more educators, according to Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, chair of the campus Academic Senate.

According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, central campus partially funds uGSI and GSI hiring through the Temporary Academic Salary, or TAS, program.

“TAS funding … will be greater in the coming academic year than it was this year,” Mogulof said in an email. “So, any decision to reduce the number of GSI’s or uGSI’s at a given school or college would not be as a result of reduced funding from the central campus.”

However, funding allocation decisions are at the discretion of department deans and, as such, vary from college to college.

Satish Rao, a computer science professor for CS70, has seen a decrease in spending per student.

“This semester I got about roughly $300 per allocated student for a class of 675 students. The actual demand was 820 students,” Rao said. “In the past, there was a TAS task force that decided we would get roughly $700 per student.”

TAS funding has been “very heavily hurt,” according to Johnson-Hanks, citing lower enrollment from international students resulting from the pandemic as a key reason for reduced funds. 

Some, like Rao, believe budget deficits have been constant even before COVID-19.

Rao has also done his own research on campus spending and found that in 2017, the campus allegedly spent more than twice as much on non-instructional salaries, which includes administrators, than on direct research and instructional salaries.

“The only way to combat that is by getting students to band together and encourage the university to do what’s right for the students and what’s right for the academic student employees,” Cohen said.

Contact Christopher Ying, Alexandra Feldman and Kaleo Mark at [email protected].