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Growing CS department struggles to pay all TAs

TAs for intro courses receive mix of salary, credit to compensate for lack of funds

Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

As computer science becomes increasingly popular, paying all of its undergraduate teaching assistants has become a challenge for the department. For introductory courses in the Department of Computer Science — such as CSCI 0150: “Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming,” CSCI 0170: “Computer Science: An Integrated Introduction,” CSCI 0330: “Introduction to Computer Systems” and CSCI 1230: “Introduction to Computer Graphics” — TAs are paid only for grading, and are given course credit for the rest of their responsibilities. For all other computer science courses, TAs can choose to be paid an hourly wage, or do everything for course credit.

Without this system in place, “we can’t afford to pay all our TAs,” said Tom Doeppner, associate professor of computer science and vice chair of the department of computer science. “Last year the department spent $840,000 on TAs,” he added. While Doeppner said the department’s inability to pay all of its TAs is “unfortunate,” the department does make exceptions for those with financial difficulties and for those from a low-income background.

But some students aren’t bothered by the arrangement. Many like receiving a combination of salary and credit because it gives them more time to focus on classes.

“I thought it was a really good experience to have it as a little bit of both,” said Shawna Huang ’20, who was a TA for CSCI 0170. Receiving salary and credit “gave me the freedom to only take four classes and not feel like I was missing out on something academically,” she added.

Audrey Kintisch ’20 shares similar sentiments. “For me it made sense to do it for credit and salary because I didn’t think I could handle having four courses and a job that intense.”

But Huang plans to switch over to exclusively pay when she gains more experience.

Other students pointed out discrepancies between what they thought should count and what actually counts as grading. Kintisch noted that there have been “a couple of complaints that we weren’t paid for design checks” or “for final grading sessions” since TAs “weren’t technically doing any grading at the sessions,” but “weren’t just normally holding hours or holding labs,” Kintisch said.

There may be an end in sight for this TA payment situation. The University is about to complete a $10 million endowment, which Doeppner hopes will lead to increased funding for TAs in the computer science department. “There’s a big gap between what we’re currently getting from the endowment, what the University is paying us and what we have to pay our TAs,” Doeppner added. “We’re hoping that once the endowment is fully funded and once the University kicks in more money we don’t have to require students to TA for course credit in these courses.”

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