AMS launches investigation into outdated policies for Queen’s undergraduate assistants
The policy for undergraduate student teaching assistants (TAs) is under investigation by the AMS due to concerns of transparency and potentially inaccessible protocols.
Isabelle Duchaine, AMS academic affairs commissioner, said she started her investigation in the summer and is working with the Registrar’s Office to clarify if a policy exists.
“I stumbled into this issue because I was looking up the policy and I found there wasn’t any,” Duchaine, ArtSci ’13, said. “I think it is a little disconcerting that we don’t have a distinctive policy.” The AMS obtained a Senate Policy on Teaching Assistants which covered the period from 2005- 09. It’s no longer readily available online, and no new editions have been released online.
Duchaine said she wants to work toward a policy that allows the AMS to provide more support and training for the undergrad TAs, so it can be more of a learning experience for both them and their students.
Currently, they’re handled completely at the departmental level.
In the Senate document, the role of undergraduate and graduate TAs was listed as the same. It outlined the rights and responsibilities of both teaching assistants and the University, as well as protocols related to equity and safety, discrimination and harassment, ethics, training and more.
Alan Harrison, provost and vice-principal (academic) said a policy is currently in the process of being developed and isn’t yet available for viewing. He noted that there are 200 undergraduate TAs this fall, but the number fluctuates year to year. Programs with undergraduate TAs include engineering, computer science, film and media studies, psychology, anatomy, math and commerce.
Harrison said the undergraduate TAs’ pay is reviewed each year and when it’s increased, it’s done so in line with graduate TAs. Undergraduate TAs are currently paid $19.19 per hour, including vacation pay.
The lack of Queen’s-wide policy hasn’t deterred students like Matt Black, Sci ’14, from taking up TA positions.
Black, a TA in the engineering department, said he found out about TA hiring in his department via email, and applied with a reference from a professor and then got an interview.
“I was told that the department liked me because there wasn’t a lot of third-year TAs,” he continued. “I only know five in general.” The material he presents in class is vetted by professors and he went through training such as renewing his Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) certification, seminars on how to identify mental health issues, CPR, monthly meetings and weekly emails, all provided by his department.
The requirement to be a TA varies by department. The overlapping factors are grades and capability to teach as decided by an interview.
Black said he thinks the TA experience is a positive one for undergraduate students.
“Because we are so close in age [with our students], we understand each other better and I know the students prefer someone they can understand.”