Following widespread student frustration and a series of articles published by Spectator last year, TC administrators agreed to raise course assistants' base compensation from $800 to $1,000 per semester. But TC course assistants say that $1,000 is too low, especially given that they're often asked to do far more than they're supposed to.
TC Vice Provost William Baldwin said that administrators issued new course assistant guidelines to the faculty this year. According to the guidelines, course assistants should work only 3-5 hours per week, and they should only read or grade papers if they are studying for a higher degree than the students in the class. They also shouldn't be asked to lecture without a professor present, the guidelines say.
But Joshua Warren, a course assistant and member of the TC Student Senate, said the guidelines are laughable.
“They keep telling us that we're not grading homework, but if we're not grading homework then what am I doing?” he asked. “All I do is grade homework, and they're not multiple choice.”
Genevieve Hartman, TC '11—who was paid $800 per semester as a course assistant for several classes—said that she was asked to lecture, write exams, and grade 10-page papers. Similarly, Jessica Marini—who refers to herself as a TA—said she is often asked to do more than is outlined by the guidelines.
“I grade the midterms and sometimes the finals, which are open-ended,” she said. “I've graded homework assignments and labs, answered countless emails throughout the week, and have even taught select classes throughout the semester.”
Meanwhile, teaching assistants at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are paid roughly $5,000 per semester, and some are eligible for additional funding that can bring their total compensation to $12,000. TC students do not receive any additional stipends.
“If we walk across the street and we do the same job over there, that person gets so much more,” Warren said.
Baldwin said that while he'd like to increase funding for all TC students, the college's budget constraints make it impossible.
“The comparison between Columbia and TC is what makes it difficult,” Baldwin said. “While all of our degrees are awarded by the University, our independent affiliated status puts us on a very different financial footing when it comes to supporting our own students.”
But TC Student Senate President Vikash Reddy, a doctoral candidate in education policy, believes that the college can do more. Reddy said that while administrators meant well with the course assistant pay increase, they need to increase funding further.
“I don't think administration would claim that the issue has been resolved,” he said.
Students said that TC should make more of an effort to evaluate its budget and find more funding for students who work in the classroom.
“They should look at how much they are charging and reconsider how they allocate the funds. I have a huge amount of debt from getting my master's at TC before enrolling in the Ph.D. program,” Hartman said. “Master's students are the cash cow, and they should look at how their money is spent.”
Warren believes that by paying course assistants so little, TC is showing that it doesn't value the work that they do.
“The message of the Teachers College is that teachers are supposed to be paid as much as doctors,” Warren said. “But we don't take the values home. They don't live by what they preach.”
An earlier version of this story featured a mislabeled photo of Teachers College student Jay Shuttleworth, a Contemporary Civilization instructor. Spectator regrets the error.