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TAs allege job uncertainty, reduced hours in biology course, unexpected termination in previously planned engineering course

TAs from BIOL 0200 report hour cuts; TAs for previously planned ENGN 0030 report job loss last spring


Undergraduate teaching assistants in BIOL 0200: “The Foundation of Living Systems” were informed earlier this month that nearly half of the course’s staff would be let go before the course’s professors informed them that their hours would instead be reduced, three TAs for the course told The Herald. 

Separately, last spring, students who had been hired and trained to serve as TAs in ENGN 0030: “Introduction to Engineering” were informed that the course had been canceled for the fall and that they would not work as TAs for the course, two TAs for the course told The Herald. 

Faculty overseeing both courses confirmed the layoffs and planned layoffs, respectively. In the case of the biology course, students claimed that professors cited a raise in the undergraduate minimum wage as one rationale for the cuts — a claim that the biology department's undergraduate education office denied.

Three teaching assistants between the courses spoke to The Herald on the condition of anonymity due to concerns about retaliation from their departments or current employers. 


ENGN 0030: Termination and uncertainty

In April, after a month of training, ENGN 0030 TAs were abruptly let go and informed that the course would no longer be taught in the fall, two former ENGN 0030 TAs told The Herald.

Before the course’s cancellation, both ENGN 0030 and ENGN 0032: “Introduction to Engineering: Design” were offered as introductory courses for engineering concentrators, with the former focusing on physics and the latter on design, according to the former ENGN 0030 TAs.

“I was super happy to get hired,” said a student initially hired as one of 29 ENGN 0030 TAs. “The reason I (became) a TA was because I really connected with my (TA) when I was in ENGN 0030.”

TAs were let go during an abruptly announced meeting on April 27 after undergoing a month of training, the two TAs said. 

The department was unable to find faculty to take over the course following the retirement of former faculty, according to department leadership.

“Last spring, as we were working on course planning for the fall — including identifying faculty to teach ENGN 0030 given recent retirements and informed in part by a review of the core curriculum that is underway — we decided to pause ENGN 0030 and proceed with ENGN 0032,” wrote Tayhas Palmore, senior associate dean for academic affairs at the school of engineering, in an email to The Herald.

“We recognize that this shift may have been disruptive for some of the students who planned to TA for ENGN 0030, but this decision was made in the best interest of all of our engineering concentrators and students from other academic areas interested in introductory engineering courses,” Palmore wrote.

The course cancellation posed logistical and financial issues for former TAs who had anticipated having employment in the fall semester, the two TAs told The Herald.

“I thought I was going to have this job, I'm going to have this income, but now I don't know,” the first former ENGN 0030 TA said. “By that point in the semester, a lot of the TA positions that I could have applied to were closed.” They are currently still seeking campus employment opportunities and have not yet found a job.


Both TAs in the course who spoke with The Herald described the situation as “frustrating,” with one adding that the sudden layoffs were “saddening” for students affected.

“It was important to go from a student to a mentor,” the first former ENGN 0030 TA said. “And then just having that taken away was really frustrating.”

BIOL 0200: Mixed messages

BIOL 0200 TAs were hired at the end of the spring 2023 semester and expected to work six hours a week in the following fall semester, the TAs told The Herald. But in a Sept. 11 staff meeting — the first of the semester for BIOL 0200 — TAs present alleged that the course’s professors informed the group that eight of their roughly 20 staff would be terminated the following week, partially as a result of the campus-wide minimum wage increase for UTAs.

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Natalie Chernysh ’24, a third-time BIOL 0200 TA, claimed that faculty then informed the TAs that “the wage increase that occurred in the past year has put an additional burden on the department.”

The course, which typically sees enrollment between 200 and 300 students, has almost 150 students this semester. But at the initial staff meeting, professors “made it clear that (the layoffs weren’t) due to the course enrollment size,” alleged Camilla Regalia ’24, a first-time BIOL 0200 TA.

“The (Biology Undergraduate Education) office kept us informed about the possibility of resource reallocation, which included adjustments to teaching assistant positions,” Professor Jody Hall, Professor William Holmes and Professor John Stein PhD’95 wrote in an email to The Herald. “This was communicated to us as essential to ensure fairness and equitable support across all courses.”

“While BUE was considering specific details throughout the shopping period, we proactively informed our TAs about potential reallocation at our staff meeting, underscoring our commitment to transparency,” they wrote.

The BUE office denied claims that the decision was prompted by the minimum wage increase. 

“We were fully aware of the UTA minimum wage increase and had already secured the additional funds to address the increase, so that was not a factor in this decision,” wrote Dean of BUE Toni-Marie Achilli PhD’14 in an email to The Herald.

Chernysh expressed frustration with the department, describing it as “poor planning.”

Two days after the Sept. 11 meeting, BIOL 0200 TAs were informed that there would not be terminations — instead, most TAs would be getting their weekly hours reduced from six to four. According to TAs, they can choose whether to only manage grading and office hours or lab.

“There has been a shift in enrollment across many of our biology courses this semester,” Achilli wrote to The Herald. “We've managed to maintain TA positions for all members of our UTA staff by strategically reducing the hourly commitment of UTAs in BIOL 0200 from six to four hours. Where possible, we reassigned TAs to other courses to offset enrollment increases in other biology courses.”

Several BIOL 0200 TAs expressed disappointment at the unanticipated reduction in hours and commented that it was disruptive to their expected income.

“I can augment the money that I would have been making (TAing) through tutoring, but I'm lucky I had that backup plan,” Regalia said. “Other people don't have that.”

“Part of the UTA experience is … doing all the components of the job,” said one BIOL 0200 TA. “It's a bit disappointing (that) they're cutting our roles.”

TAs told The Herald that the instability and lack of communication surrounding their positions have created disillusionment surrounding current work experiences and future prospects for course employment.

“I just don't have a lot of faith in the TA hiring process now,” said the first former ENGN 0030 TA. “Who knows if another course that I want to TA is going to disappear? I don't know now.”

Ashley Cai

Ashley Cai is a Senior Staff Writer from Los Altos, California covering the staff and student labor beat. She is a Brown-RISD Dual Degree studying computer science, IAPA and graphic design. She is also a member of The Herald's Tech Team.

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