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The Graduate School recently formalized ways to relieve the TA crunch that has plagued many departments at Brown, creating a new position for part-time TAs and encouraging related departments to work together.

In a decision that has sparked debate between professors and the Grad School, departments that lack enough teaching assistants can now officially be assigned grad students from related departments.

The process is an attempt to alleviate the dwindling size of many graduate programs, which has left some departments without enough TAs in many classes, said Dean of the Graduate School Sheila Bonde. The Grad School has been forced to compensate by using TAs from relevant departments, Bonde said, noting that it has tried to make "sensible matches."

 The Grad School has also created a new position of "Master's TAs," who are, according to Bonde, "essentially half-time TAs," but who do not receive the stipends and tuition remission that other grad students receive. Since the program is so new, though, there is only one such Master's TA — in the Africana Studies department, since it has "no allied graduate program," she said.

Though the Grad School has always held a partial role in assigning TAs, the recently modified assigning process necessitates more communication between professors and the Grad School to guarantee an appropriate fit, especially for departments that lack their own graduate programs, Bonde said.

"It's a lot of talking," she said. "It's all a very friendly process with the departments."

The Department of Economics, traditionally one of the largest at Brown in undergraduate enrollment, has often fulfilled its need for TAs by hiring undergraduates, said Professor of Economics Andrew Foster, chair of the department. But he added that the department would like to "limit the number of students in a class with undergraduate TAs."

Because of the graduate program's length and the University's full funding commitment — the University guarantees graduate students compensatory payment for five years — the downward trend in the number of graduate students has exacerbated the need for more graduate TAs, according to Foster.

The Grad School has also instituted a new orientation program with the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning to train TAs who may not be as familiar with the courses as they would if they were members of the respective departments, Bonde said. Despite increased communication between the Grad School and the departments, along with the new orientation program, some professors have expressed trepidation about the Grad School's new role.

"My concern was about Dean of the Graduate School Sheila Bonde's statement that the (Grad School) was assuming more control for the assignment of TAs and that in some cases graduate students might be asked to teach in a related department where the need for TAs was greater than in their home departments," Associate Professor of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies Luiz Valente, chair of program, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Professor of History Omer Bartov said having more TAs as a result of the new interdepartmental assigning process would alleviate some strain on TAs forced to teach large sections, but he noted that the external appointments might be "problematic, because we know our students better than the Graduate School" does.

But ultimately he acknowledged that the new process — along with consultation between the Grad School and the department — would help not only his department, but also the TAs themselves.

"Often sections were very large — way too large," Bartov said. Until the Grad School fully implements its new assigning process, he said the department's TAs are "drowning."

"They can't do anything else but teach," he said.


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