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TA salaries unfair

By Melanie Lenart
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
December 8, 1999
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To the editor,

Educators often wonder why society values education, except with its wallet. Yet many expect teaching assistants to work long hours for little pay.

TA salaries can get down to $5 or $6 an hour in courses that require grading or extensive interaction with students if one compares the take-home pay with actual hours worked. No wonder the Wildcat compares TAs to fast-food workers.

Let's stop pretending that a teaching job can be completed in 10 hours a week, the underlying premise of a quarter-time assistantship.

A third-time assistantship, which assumes a 15-hour work week, should be considered the minimum for student teachers.

At one time, quarter-time assistantships allowed frugal graduate students to eke out a living. At this time, they do not.

In the Geosciences department - which offers one of the highest hourly wages for TAs at the university - a quarter-time salary amounts to about $525 a month after taxes.

I think we can all agree that this amount of money, equivalent to annual earnings of $6,200, falls below subsistence level for anyone with rent to pay, not to mention tuition.

Does society believe grad students should be homeless? The alternative is to go deeply into debt - or find a second job.

Squeezing in additional paid work around coursework and research is difficult, as teaching responsibilities rarely fit into the time slot allotted by the designated paid hours. And ask yourself this: Is it fair for teaching assistants to go deeply into debt while working very hard?

A good TA provides a layer of learning that complements a professor's expertise. Many undergraduates consider TAs more approachable for questions. And this university has a lot of good TAs, in my experience.

Let's try to keep it that way by rewarding their efforts with at least a subsistence-level income.

Melanie Lenart

Renewable natural resources graduate student

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