Commentary  Struggling for students

Why TA hours ought to be increased

Come January 11, 2013, AGSEM, McGill’s Teaching Union, will have spent twenty years negotiating for the improved working conditions and fair wages of teaching assistants (TAs). Today, AGSEM TAs continue the fight for the proper recognition of the key role that we play in ensuring a fruitful and prosperous learning environment at our university. The road has not been easy, with four arduous years of negotiation for the first TA collective bargaining agreement in 1997, and the TA strikes in 2003 and 2008.

Through our collective efforts, we have improved the quality of education at McGill. For example, the TA strike of 2008 helped to secure the use of standardized workload forms across the university and access to office space reserved for use by TAs. Another improvement to the TA collective agreement obtained from the last round of bargaining is the access to paid pedagogical training for new TAs. All of these changes lead to better educational outcomes by providing TAs with the necessary tools to instruct students with confidence. Gains in wages from as low as $10 an hour in 1993 to $25.74 in 2012 better reflect the economic value of the work that TAs perform.

AGSEM continues to work with our members to improve the working conditions of TAs, with a focus on quality teaching and learning at McGill. At our TA General Assembly on November 1, members resolved to continue the fight for quality education for undergraduates and graduates. A major issue related to this goal is the University’s failure to increase TA hours in proportion to increases in enrolment. From Fall 2006 to Fall 2011, undergraduate enrolment increased by 10.1 per cent, according to the latest numbers from McGill Enrolment Services. During the same time frame, the total number of TA hours decreased by 2 per cent. This results in a lost 1.4 TA hours for every undergraduate student at McGill.

We believe that TA hours and the University’s teaching support budget should be indexed to undergraduate enrolment. A 10.1 per cent increase in TA hours would only cost McGill $750,000 to $800,000, which is less than 0.1 per cent of the total yearly budget. Such an increase would give every single undergraduate student at McGill slightly more than an additional hour of instruction from a TA. It would also afford greater opportunities for graduate students to teach and ensure that they receive important pedagogical skills and knowledge.

We also believe that the amount of students per TA should be capped for classes, laboratories, discussion groups, and field trips. While the caps will vary between the different activities, no TA should be in charge of a lab with forty students. It is simply a matter of ensuring sufficient time per student for proper instruction, for fair evaluations, and for a safe work environment.

The quality of education at McGill should not be jeopardized for such a small amount of money. We call on the administration to increase TA hours and we ask our fellow students, teachers, and McGill community members at large to show their support for the quality of education at McGill by joining us for future events on campus this year.

In solidarity,

Justin Marleau, AGSEM Vice-President – Teaching Assistants
Megan Mericle, AGSEM Communications Officer – Teaching Assistants
Rosalind Hampton, AGSEM Grievance Officer – Teaching Assistants
Sunci Avlijas, AGSEM Mobilization Officer – Teaching Assistants
Cora-Lee Conway, AGSEM Financial Officer – Teaching Assistants

AGSEM, McGill’s Teaching Union, represents teaching assistants, invigilators, course lecturers, and instructors.