News | Administration

TC admins commit to higher salaries for underfunded TAs

After a survey of Teachers College teaching assistants found that more than half earned less than $1,000 per semester-long course, TC administrators promised that pay increases for TAs would be announced in the spring semester.

As Spectator first reported in October, Teachers College TAs have expressed frustration that their pay is significantly lower than that of Columbia TAs—who are typically paid about $5,000 per class—even though they say they do just as much work.

Forty-five TAs completed the pay survey conducted by the TC Student Senate, the results of which were released at a town hall held last week. Twenty-seven of those TAs earned less than $1,000 per course.

At the town hall, TC President Susan Fuhrman and TC Provost Tom James made a more specific commitment than they had in the past to enhance pay to address the concerns. They also emphasized the need to establish a consistent definition of a TA’s role and responsibilities.

“We in the administration have been concerned about TA pay, and also incredibly confused about what is a TA,” Fuhrman said. “Is there any meaning to how these terms are used in practice?”

TAs from Teachers College instruct graduate-level courses, whereas many Columbia TAs work at the undergraduate-level—a difference TC administrators have cited for the pay disparity.

But the survey found that most respondents’ responsibilities include traditional TA duties like grading papers, leading discussion sections, and holding office hours. For instance, 39 of the 45 TAs said they grade student papers as part of their jobs.

“The people who claim that TA positions at graduate schools require less work than at an undergraduate level are wrong,” and the results of the survey reinforce that, TC Student Senate President Vikash Reddy said in an email.

Students who participated in the survey also emphasized that they hope administrators will improve pay for TAs rather than limit their duties.

Kathryn Hill, a TC doctoral student in the sociology and education program, said that serving as a TA for a statistics course had been a “great experience,” and that she and other TAs just want adequate pay.

“I think TAs just want to be compensated fairly for the time they spend,” she said. “It’s not like I want my responsibilities to be reduced.”

Hill was paid $1,500 for what she estimated to be eight to ten hours of work per week, which included grading a dozen eight-page papers each week.
TC can only build students’ teaching and research skills “by compensating students fairly for important work, not by limiting their obligations and continuing to pay peanuts,” Reddy said in an email.

Fuhrman and James also said they hope to release information this spring detailing how to move toward providing full funding for every doctoral student, a goal to which Fuhrman has publicly committed. TC currently cannot guarantee full funding to most doctoral students, leaving it lagging behind peer schools.

Daniel Souleles, an applied anthropology doctoral student at TC, was one of only three survey respondents who managed to secure higher-paying TA positions at Columbia and Barnard. He said TC doctoral students without guaranteed funding packages often have to scramble to find TA positions that pay their bills.

“I’m not thrilled about the prospect of a week’s worth of cold calling that’s coming up in January,” he said.

henry.willson@columbiaspectator.com

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Anonymous posted on

The fact that Susan Fuhrman says she is "incredibly confused about what is a TA" is a tremendous embarrassment to the college.  If she hadn't left the meeting after only 15 minutes, she might have been able to find some clarity.  The President of the so-called TEACHERS College claiming not to know what a TEACHING assistant does is ludicrous.  Defining TAs should be top priority, not something to talk about on a coffee break in the Russell Lounge.

TC applicants: take it from my experience, please do not waste your money at TC

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Anonymous posted on

What?  This headline is somewhat misleading.  There was no commitment.  There is no timeline for fully funding doc students at TC. No specifics about how this confusing array of jobs (course assistants, graduate assistants, professor assistants) will suddenly restructure next semester. 

Why was this only about funding?  These jobs are important teacher jobs that help students learn and not just mechanisms to fund doc students.  The compensation reform must include adjuncts too.  Adjuncts at TC are often paid less than the TA's than the undergraduate TA's across the street.  At the forum, TA pay was conflated with doc student funding - as if the graduate students of Teachers College are not even paying for teachers but only helping to minimally fund their peers.  This idea creates part of the problem in the first place because TA's should be hired and retained for their abilities and potential abilities as teachers of TC's students and not serve merely as funding devices for the favored.  Besides, how could TA jobs really be funding since even if they triple the pay it still wouldn't cover the cost of tuition for one three-credit TC course? Funding is a red herring,  Teachers College is not paying its teachers. 

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Anonymous posted on

It should be noted that TA is not even an official category at Teachers College, and most of the people at the forum were hired as Course Assistants.  Furthermore, if TC were to adhere to its own policies, providing assistance would not include grading course papers or delivering any of the course content.  Whilst this bears out the fact that there are indeed no Teaching Assistants at Teachers College, it raises the further question of how these students are even meant to assist in the functioning of the course at all.  This is how things currently stand at Teachers College.  In the spirit of describing roles and states of affairs accurately, this reflects a SHAMEFUL performance on the part of an administration who cannot coherently define their own institutional priorities.

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