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More TAs expected
| Years of cutbacks and hiring freezes on teaching assistantships appear to be over.
As part of his 2000-2001 budget proposal, Vice-Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet is recommending that $1.3 million in new funding be allocated to hire 200 more TAs as early as next fall. The proposal will be brought forward at the May 29 Board of Governors meeting and is contingent on the board's approval.
But Vinet appears confident the proposal will get the green light. "If I dare say so," he ventures, "hiring more TAs is an issue that should be unanimously approved because these positions are so important to ensuring a high level of education at McGill."
During past budgetary pinches at the University, however, TA positions often got the ax or weren't replenished. Now, Vinet says, "the time has come to hire more TAs to continue improving the quality of education."
While the TA pool, currently at about 750, stands to jump by almost 25 per cent with the new positions, Vinet wishes McGill had the financial flexibility to hire even more. "The number we want to hire doesn't even meet half the number that faculties have been asking for," he says, noting one of his administration's goals is "to eventually see at least one TA assisting every class, no matter what the size."
That's why Vinet pledges this won't be a one-time-only hiring blitz. The current TA budget is about $5 million and he foresees that fund swelling by an extra $2 million in two years. "It's my priority to hire more TAs this year, next year and the one after that," he says. "Not just to replace graduating TAs, but to increase their numbers as well."
Vinet says hiring more TAs will have several benefits for McGill. Not only do TAs provide much needed support for lecturers, they also provide a second opinion on course content, he says. "And Increasing the TA pool is a good way for McGill to attract more talented graduate students to fill these positions," he says. "It's an important recruiting tool."
Jordan Gellar, coordinator of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), a union that represents TAs, agrees TAships can attract more master's and PhD students.
"If graduate students have this option to make money to pay for their education it makes attending McGill more attractive," he says, noting TAs can make from $11 to $18.50 an hour, or up to $1,500 per semester.
Vinet says the financial support TAships give to graduate students is another incentive for pushing their numbers. "Providing teaching assistant positions is a way to put money into student pockets," he says.
Often, says anthropology professor Mike Bisson, "TA work can give graduate students enough financial support that they can avoid taking unrelated outside jobs."
And assisting professors, adds Bisson, has the additional advantage of preparing students for their own teaching careers: "Being a teaching assistant is a great experience that allows them to learn how to properly interact with students."
"TAships are at the heart of good training," Vinet concurs. "These positions allow graduate students to obtain a better grasp of course materials, how to explain it clearly and what teaching is truly like."
Vinet adds that TAs can even facilitate communication in classrooms, since some students may feel more comfortable addressing their issues with someone closer to their age: i.e., teaching assistants. "It's important for undergrads to have a resource person that has recently experienced what they are going through in their programs," he stresses.
Having publicly vocalized his concern about a lack of TAs in the past, as chair of the Faculty of Arts Committee on Teaching, Bisson is glad the TA drought appears to be over. In a recent survey of arts professors that he put together, Bisson found, "professors indicated that the reduction in TAships was one of the biggest problems caused by budget cuts."
Now, at least, professors who want to diversify their teaching methods will have the support to do so. Increased assistance will allow essay-answer tests to be substituted for multiple-choice exams. Multiple-choice tests are less labour intensive to correct. "Yet essays are better pedagogical tools," Bisson says. "So, clearly, more TAs means the quality of education will be maximized."