The University of California and the union that represents teaching assistants and readers recently came to an agreement on a new contract. Despite this, some of the 12,000 graduate students represented by United Auto Workers 2865 claim they are consistently overworked by professors.
This is due to many factors, one of which is a flawed grievance process, which promotes an imbalanced power dynamic between graduate students and their faculty advisors.
This causes graduate students to feel reluctant to speak out against workload violations for fear of retribution so as to not burn bridges with that professor. This promotes an unhealthy working environment and puts TAs in a position they should never have to be in.
Yet this scenario happens quite often. But not all hope is lost. Alternative solutions must be implemented in order to combat these breaches of contract.
This starts with a more educated professor. We already know that all professors on campus are brilliant people, but many do not know the number of hours that their own TAs are contractually obligated to work. This involves professors taking it upon themselves to learn the contract and the union putting pressure on them to actually do it.
Professors, once educated on TA contracts, must then regulate themselves to ensure that they never require graduate students to work over the maximum number of hours. This should not be done out of obligation, but out of respect for the TAs who work for them.
Another solution is to inform TAs of their class assignments further in advance. Currently, they receive their assignments a few days before classes begin, making it more difficult to prepare.
More preparation time would cut down on the work that they have to do during the quarter and allow more time for them to give quality feedback to their students on tests and papers.
Some graduate students also claim that workload problems have occurred due to budget cuts, which have eliminated TA positions and increased class sizes. While this is an obvious problem and one the university has been dealing with for the past few years, reducing cuts isn’t a workable solution at this point, as they don’t look to be going away any time soon.
As a result, the university must educate professors and inform TAs of their class assignments earlier. While the grievance process can’t be 100 percent relied upon, it should still be in place for those instances when a faculty member needs to be reminded of the maximum workload.
It is important that university officials, professors and students stand behind these solutions because, ultimately, the victim of these violations is public education.