Commentary | Support your TAs

Students may not realize it, but there’s another labour dispute brewing at McGill – one that has nothing to do with MUNACA. McGill’s teaching union, AGSEM, has been in negotiations with the administration over a new contract for TAs since March. Last Friday, after months of stonewalling, the administration presented them with a new offer. While the union’s lips are sealed until TAs vote on Thursday, The Daily hopes that they met the TAs demands, which include more TA hours, the limiting of conference and lab sizes, paid training, mandatory meetings with course supervisors, and a 3 per cent wage increase.

The administration should give the TAs what they are asking for. Many of AGSEM’s demands would benefit students academically. TAs are indispensable to an undergraduate education at McGill. Longer hours and paid training for TAs would make them more capable and available to students. That would mean more effectively run conferences, more helpful office hours, and more thoroughly graded papers.

Faculty should also hope to see the TAs’ demands met; more TA hours means a reduced marking burden on professors. Further, better trained TAs would mean the prepared course material would be more effectively taught to students.

And, of course, meeting the TAs demands would be good for the 2,000 or so TAs at McGill. TAs are graduate students, many of whom are in difficult financial circumstances, and may be incurring steep student debts. Given the difficulty of their jobs, and how well-qualified most of them are, the $24.99 an hour they make is hardly just compensation. Fully-appointed TAs are currently mandated to work 180 hours per term, and so make only about $4,500 per TA-ship. This is barely a living wage, and certainly is not reflective of the incredibly important role they play at McGill.

Indeed, TAs are an essential part of the academic structure at McGill, and, without them, the University would hardly be able to function. This was made clear in the spring of 2008 when AGSEM went on strike for over two months. As a result, grades were delayed and professors were overworked during exam time. If the administration’s conduct during the MUNACA strike is any indication, a TA strike this year would be more bitter and drawn-out than the last one.

The fact that the administration has flatly rejected the TAs demands so far, despite the obvious benefits that meeting those demands would produce, is yet another example of how out of touch the administration is with the desires of the campus community. Their callous response to the presence of violent riot police on campus, their continual support of tuition hikes, their attempts to silence MUNACA, their stripping away of student’s rights to the McGill name: these are all signs of an administration that has no interest in listening to what its students, faculty, and support staff want or need.

But last Monday’s thousand-strong teach-in in front of James Administration (in the newly christened Community Square) was a sign that the McGill community is increasingly determined to be heard. And if the administration wants to show that it is finally listening, it should begin by acceding to the modest demands of our TAs.