Letters to the editors

TAs, TFs need TAFA

Dear Editors,

When graduate students are deciding whether to support TAFA, they should ask themselves one question: Do Queen’s employment policies offer teaching assistants (TAs) and teaching fellows (TFs) any meaningful voice in determining their working conditions?

For TFs, the answer is clear: Absolutely not. In fact, Queen’s has no explicit employment policies for TFs whatsoever. Unlike term adjunct instructors who perform the exact same work, TFs are not eligible to receive stipends for large class sizes, pay in lieu of benefits, professional development or teaching experience. Further, there are no established appointment (and reappointment) procedures or grievance procedures for TFs. A collective agreement guarantees these protections for adjuncts. Queen’s TFs deserve similar benefits and protections.

For TAs, the mechanisms that are in place are toothless. The TA Consultative Committee is charged with making recommendations aimed at improving the TA policy unveiled in 2005. The current committee is genuinely interested in addressing TA issues, but they are hamstrung by their subordinate role. The TA Consultative Committee is a sub-committee of a Senate committee. Its agenda is largely determined by the University, it has no space in its membership for a representative group of TAs and it has no mechanism for enforcing either its recommendations or provisions in the TA policy. Without an enforcement mechanism, the TA policy lacks credibility. It means that basic problems such as inadequate training, working more than one’s paid hours and unfair appointment decisions—all violations of the TA policy—are allowed to persist in some departments. Queen’s TAs deserve better than a paper policy.

Some opponents of the union may try to distract graduate students from the issues and paint TAFA as a group of malcontents only interested in wages. Queen’s TAs and TFs know better: They know that the choice is about having a meaningful say in their employment terms. Our faculty members have a strong, democratic voice in setting their employment conditions. So do our adjunct instructors, librarians and archivists. This year, TAs and TFs have the opportunity to gain a stronger voice, enforceable employment terms and a more equitable relationship with their employer. They can do so by supporting TAFA.

Sean Tucker
PhD ’09

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