As a professor at UC Davis, I have witnessed over the years the saga of UC budget cuts, tuition hikes and increased pressures on departments to teach larger numbers of students. Teaching assistants have become the frontline instructors for our large undergraduate classes at this university. I write as a faculty member in support of their campaign for a new contract, one that will guarantee the quality and accessibility of a UC education.
In my Department of Art and Art History, our graduate students in art history rely on teaching assistant (TA) appointments as their primary form of fellowship support, and we are hard pressed to offer even half-time TA employment to them. We are not alone; UC’s average yearlong graduate funding offer is nearly $5,000 less than that of any competing university, according to an Academic Senate report, when accounting for California’s high cost of living (http://www.ucop.edu/student-affairs/_files/gradsurvey_2010.pdf). So that we can extend financial support to as many of our students as possible, most of our TAs in art history are paid at 25-percent time, a remuneration that amounts to less than the typical rent for one adult in Davis, according to the Living Wage Calculator.
We in art history grapple with large teaching workloads and multiple classes. We benefit from talented, conscientious and hard-working TAs. However, when our TAs have only 10 hours a week to serve 40-60 students, those TAs only barely cover the minimal weekly requirements of attending lectures, completing readings, preparing and leading sections, let alone giving individual attention and feedback on papers. Such constraints hardly make ideal learning conditions for the undergraduate students in those classes.
Departments who do not meet the expectations to teach ever-larger classes face budget cuts and cuts to the number of sections they can offer. As fewer TAs serve more students, it seems this campus will regrettably — and inevitably — move toward only the most superficial education at what is supposed to be one of the nation’s top public universities.
This Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 10 and 11, the UC Student-Workers’ Union (including TAs, Readers and Tutors) will be bargaining on the UC Davis campus for a new contract for TAs. Among many other things, they are demanding higher wages and more input on class sizes. Unfortunately, UC refuses to even consider TA input on class sizes, arguing that class sizes are not part of TA working conditions — a refusal which TAs say is unlawful and constitutes an Unfair Labor Practice.
I ask that you support our campus’s TAs by speaking on behalf of them or simply attending their bargaining session. You can sign up at: tinyurl.com/testifydavis.
Department of Art and Art History