University-wide budget cuts have required departments to slash spending this year, leading to fears that the number of TAs would be reduced.
Departments across campus were unsure how many TAs they would be able to employ this semester, and whether that number would meet student needs, adding to the usual uncertainty surrounding class enrolment numbers following the add-drop deadline.
According to the 2009-2010 University Budget, departments were required to reduce spending by at least 1.5 per cent. Despite the need to tighten spending, departments will not be significantly decreasing the number of TAs.
“The last thing we want to cut are teaching budgets,” said Provost Anthony Masi, explaining that while the University made suggestions, they would not give a set list of cuts that had to be made, and that major decisions would be at the discretion of the specific departments.
The University has suggested that departments cut travel and hospitality expenses, which can include anything from food purchases for departmental events to staff conference trips.
Masi added that departments should “make a choice that saves you the money,” but not a choice that sacrifices intellectual integrity, or causes the University to deviate from its basic principles.
It follows that potential reductions in TA numbers would be the result of departmental – not University – decisions. However, departments continue to face tough choices when dealing with cuts, which is especially true for programs that already experience regular shortfalls in their yearly budgets.
Professor Sebastian Sobecki, TA coordinator for the Department of English, said that departments are forced to use their own resources to fill these gaps.
According to Sobecki, no one has necessarily mapped out what the best ratio of TAs to undergraduate students would be in each discipline; however, the faculty of arts does set a general ratio at the beginning of each academic year.
Sobecki added that while faculty members in the English Department have met the proscribed ratio this year, the number of students to TAs could still be lower, a result that many fear will impair undergraduate learning.
Professor Scott Bohle, Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Chemistry, stating that cutting TA budgets would also do a disservice to graduate students who learn much by teaching and earn a salary for their teaching hours.
The budget cuts will further affect graduate students employed at the University if the administration’s proposed $1-million reduction in employee health benefits is passed this year.
The Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), which negotiates TA contracts, is in consultation with the University regarding the proposed cuts.
Masi commented that tough decisions are needed if the University is to meet its mandated deficit limit of $5 million, while simultaneously fulfilling its obligations to give students the intellectually rich community promised at McGill.
Masi added that targeted cuts and reassessments are carried out with quality of education in mind, in order to maintain the “self-fulfilling prophecy of excellence” for which the University is known.