To the Editor:
We in the Department of Computer Science appreciate that the authors of the Feb. 27 op-ed “CS TA unionization will improve democracy, institutional memory in our workplace” care deeply about the working conditions of undergraduate teaching assistants in the department, but the opinion piece unfortunately was based on a number of misconceptions.
We firmly believe that TAs should decide for themselves whether or not to form a union, and it’s important that our commitment to supporting positive experiences for our UTAs is clear. In response to both the 2021 update to the College Curriculum Council guidelines for UTAs and to our meetings last spring with a working group of UTAs who approached us to discuss the TA program — many of whom went on to organize the Teaching Assistant Labor Organization — we made sure to clarify our policy on UTA working hours in multiple communications to our community, which we did in September 2021 and in September 2022. UTAs should average 10 hours per week and head teaching assistants 15 hours. No one should ever work more than 20 hours per week.
We also awarded our TAs a substantial raise that went into effect this past fall: Hourly wages increased by 11% to 22% for UTAs and by 21% to 27% for HTAs. With input from TAs, we also rewrote both UTA and HTA job descriptions and created materials to help faculty and TAs agree on responsibilities and proactively plan for emergencies. We reaffirmed our commitment to student well-being and gave guidance on burnout, workload and mental health issues, providing a clear statement in job descriptions on whom to contact for support.
We are happy to work with a union representing our UTAs, if one is approved by the election. UTAs have been an important part of our program for many decades, and we fully expect them to continue to be.
Thomas W. Doeppner
Vice Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Associate Professor (Research)
Writing on behalf of the Department of Computer Science