Shady UCSD ‘Tradition’ Shafts Hardworking TAs

    (Illustration by Michael Capparelli/Guardian)

    When the University of California and the United Auto
    Workers — the union representing TAs across the 10-campus system — agreed to a
    new contract last October, one of the document’s most groundbreaking provisions
    centered on the issue of fee remissions for undergraduate TAs.

    Under the agreement, qualified undergraduate TAs systemwide
    employed under certain codes developed and regulated by the UC Office of the
    President would be eligible for quarterly abatements of educational and registration
    fees. For the average TA, the remission would equate to roughly $2,200, a hefty
    sum for most college students.

    Naturally, the union hailed the contract as nationally
    precedent-setting. And just as naturally, the university has dodged the
    contact’s intent, leaving undergraduate TAs at UCSD without remissions and
    wondering why the contract was even enacted in the first place.

    The codes outlined in the agreement — 2310 and 2311 — are
    not even used at UCSD, according to Labor Relations Director Lori J. Trofemuk.
    Instead, nothing more than campus “tradition” has dictated that TAs be hired
    under a different code: 2860, a label reserved specifically for tutors.

    There’s just one problem: If the codes in the agreement are
    readily in place at every campus, nothing more than a technicality is
    preventing extremely qualified UCSD TAs from receiving remissions they
    rightfully deserve. TAs at UC Berkeley and UC Davis are already benefiting from
    the contract’s provisions, so what’s stopping UCSD from catching up? Clearly,
    the answer is greed. Though Trofemuk would be the last person to admit that.

    Her answer about why UCSD employs its hardworking
    undergraduate TAs under a code inappropriate for them was, get this: “I don’t
    know.” And that’s verbatim. It’s a shame campus officials have become so
    accustomed to sucking money away from students that they don’t even realize
    they’re doing it anymore.

    It’s obvious that TAs are vastly different from tutors —
    even UCSD understands this simple fact. According to campus policies governing
    the hiring of academic employees, TAs are responsible for grading and
    proctoring assignments and exams, hosting office hours and conducting
    discussions or laboratory sections to supplement faculty instruction. Tutors,
    however, are responsible for providing assistance to small groups of
    undergraduates who need extra help understanding course materials.

    Undergraduate TAs work alongside graduate students, who
    already receive fee abatements and make about four times as much as their
    undergraduate counterparts. And in some instances, lesser-compensated
    undergraduate TAs have even taught more sections than graduate students, a
    clear instance of inequality at the workplace.

    It’s time for UCSD to stand up and do the right thing by
    honoring the contract’s provisions. There’s no reason why UCSD TAs should miss
    out on contractually mandated benefits granted to TAs at other UC campuses who
    perform the same duties. Tradition is not a strong enough reason for our
    campus’ TAs to remain marginalized.

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