A teaching assistant helps students of Physical Geology at Tulane University. Courtesy: tulane.edu.

In every department of UR, undergraduate Teaching Assistants put in several hours of work each week to either earn credits or, in some cases, make money to offset the costs of college life. Yet while all TAs have to do comparable amounts of work, the pay for these students varies wildly between departments, and some TAs don’t have the opportunity to get paid for their work at all. For the most part, all TAs have similar responsibilities. Class TAs and workshop leaders generally have to run some form of weekly recitations, set up review sessions for exams and attend the class they’re a TA for. Lab TAs have to attend regular planning meetings and run a three-hour lab every week. Almost all TAs are also required to hold a weekly office hour, and most of the jobs have some grading component. So if TAs across the University are doing similar work, how is it that some TAs get paid nearly $800, while others don’t have the option to get paid at all?

Let’s look at two cases: an Elementary Arabic II TA and a Math 162 TA. Both individuals have to run a weekly recitation, both have to do some test grading and both have to have an office hour. There is minimal difference between the work they do on a weekly basis, yet the Math TA can choose to either receive teaching credit or at least $500 for a semester of work, whereas the Arabic TA can get the credit but doesn’t have the option to get paid at all. Sure, Liberal Arts TAs are offered some compensation for their work, but what college students really want is, in most cases, money – not credits. Additionally, being a TA counts just the same on a résumé whether you’re accepting credit for it or not. It is true that the waters can become a bit murky when comparing the work load of a Liberal Arts TA to that of a TA in the hard sciences – in several ways the jobs are very different. Examining the differences between the compensation of just science TAs, however, also uncovers some substantial injustices.

The comparison between a Biology 111 Lab TA and a Chemistry 132 Lab TA illustrate this well. Both of these courses are second semester freshmen science classes, so one would think that the TAs’ workloads should be very similar. Indeed, TAs for each course have parallel responsibilities, but are they paid the same? Try $750 for the bio TA and just $500 for the chemistry TA. Although there are more Chem 132 TAs – primarily to offset the added dangers of working in a chemistry lab – the fact that there are more of them is no excuse to pay them less.

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