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February 22, 1979 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-02-22

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Page 12-Thursday, February 22, 1979-The Michigan Daily
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*Based on 4 passenger to a car
For information and reservation call or write:
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interviews on Campus: Monday, February 26-U-M
Placement Office for appointment, application, in-


TAs recei~ve

mixed reviews

(Continued from Page 1)-
ce professor believes?
Or is the TA program "an essen-
tial part of the University" as one
administrator maintains? The an-
swers to these questions have
plagued the University community
for years, and the solutions to any
problems which might exist are dif-
ficult to find.
F ormer University President. Rob-
ben Fleming was a well-known critic of
the extensive use of TAs at the Univer-
sity. "I think the quality of the TAs has
been good, but the practice of using so
many of them has always been disap-
pointing to parents and others. I got
frequent complaints about the heavy
use of TAs,"he said.
YET MANY students laud the
abilities of their TAs, maintaining that
TAs are desirableibecause they are
more "personable" and "ap-
Teaching assistantships are the prin-
cipal way in which the University sup-
ports its graduate students. Because
there are not enough faculty members
to do all of the teaching, and because
teaching experience is important to
doctoral candidates who intend to
become professors, many TAs,
professors, and administrators feel that
the GSA program is mutually
Joseph Katulic, a University labor
contract administrator, observed that
"graduate support is an essential part
of the University. It is essential for a
University of renown to have a good
graduate program, and a good teaching
program attracts good graduates."
MARTY BOMBYK, president of the
Graduate Employees Organization
(GEO), the union which represents
GSAs, believes "good graduate
program" in part translates in com-
mitment to research.
"Professors aren't teaching 100 and
200 level courses because research,
rather than teaching, is emphasized.

Research brings reputation and grant
money to departments, which in turn
attracts students and faculty members.
The University of Michigan's
reputation is derived largely from its
research and its football team," she
Indeed, some professors and TAs
believe that the University is much
more interested in graduate training
and research than in the undergraduate
program. Alan Levy, a political science
TA said, "For out-of-state students
(who must pay over $6,000 for tuition,
room and board, and other fees), this is
essentially a private university, with
the resources of the great private
universities, but without the ability to
provide the undergraduate education
that the private institutions do."
"IN THE BIG, prestige universities,
you'll find that the undergraduate very.
often' is simply the bureaucratic
wherewithal, the cannon fodder and
bread and butter by which the Univer-
sity justifies its existence. The Univer-
sity is really much more interested in
graduate teaching and research," one
political science professor observed.
Literary College (LSA) Dean John
Knott said the University depends too
heavily on TAs, but added that he does
not believe undergraduates are slighted
here. "Once you get to the concen-
tration level and are in a department,
then I think the strength of this place
really becomes apparent. That's where
the advantages of a strong research
and graduate program begin to be
evident for undergraduates."
However, while the University em-*
phasizes the importance of the teaching
experience, some people question the
importance of this experience to the
TAs themselves. "I think there are a lot
of people who would prefer not to teach
- it's one of the tensions. But that's not
peculiar to TAs - TAs are just baby
professors," Levy observed.

"I think the economic reason comes
first for TAs," Bombyk noted. "Though
we take the jobs for an economic
reason, we are 'concerned about the
teaching as much as the financial
Professor Bernard Van't Hul, direc-
tor of the Freshman. Composition
program which utilizes more than 70
TAs to teach its classes, said, "I think
that some TAs are as fiscally motivated
as some professors. But if I have any
opinion, I believe that they're in-
terested in their work, they're in-
terested in the people they're trying to
teach, and that many of them would do
it even if the world didn't give them a
nickel for it."
Many students, TAs, and professors
claim that TAs can relate to un-
d'ergraduates more easily than can
older professors. Bombyk said, "We
are more enthusiastic, we are not bored
with the subject matter, and we are
closer to the educational atmosphere."
hand that a seasoned, mellowed, old
professor is willy-nilly better suited to
freshmen is. tough for me to accept,
because I think that what one gains in
experience one may lose in the
necessary distance which sets in bet-
ween the ages of the freshmen and.
middle-aged professors," Van't Hul
One LSA junior said; "I think that
TAs care a lot more than professors.
They are not as ominous sitting up
In fact, some assert that inĀ° many
courses, professors are not needed
because of the basic nature of the sub-
ject matter.
"Sure, experience counts for
something," Levy noted. "But I'm not
sure that there's necessarily a great
difference in the quality of the teaching
(between professors and TAs) at the
undergraduate level."

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Dinner 5:00 to 7:15
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Send your League Limerick to:
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You will receive 2 free dinner
tickets if your limerick is, used in
one of our ads.

EXPERIENCE IS a fundamental dif-
ference between TAs and professors,
arId for that reason, many departments
have training programs to prepare new
TAs to teach. "The preparation varies a
lot from department to department, but
we would not want a centralized plan
for -training because it would not be
sensitive enough to the demands of the
particular disciplines," Knott commen-
Levy is the co-developer of a TA prac-
ticum in the political science depar-
tment. The practicum, which this term
includes ten sessions, is offered on a
voluntary basis this year, and Levy
said he hopes that it will become
required in the future.
The conduct and operation of
discussion sections, the grading and
evaluating of students, and th
establishment of course objectives are
some of the topics which are included in
the practicum.
Department, an intensive week-long
workshop is held at the beginning of the
fall term, followed by weekly meetings
to discuss lessons in some sections.
The Freshman Composition courses
recently adopted a "TA Manual,"
which suggests class formats for an en-
tire term. "It invites TAs to conceive of
their own departures from the
manual," Van't Hul explained, "butI
emphatically believe in the desirability
of a relatively uniform introductory
writing course for freshmen in this kind
of an institution."
There is also a weekly two-hour
session for first-term TAs during whih
the theory and practice of teaching
composition is discussed.
training programs, Bombyk says she
still knows of TAs who were "told the
night before that they would be
teaching a class."
Further, some TAs view guidelines.
such as the Freshman-Composition TA
Manual as constraints to be avoided.
One disappointed English TA cited the
manual as a "large scale move to limit
the responsibility of TAs. It is an at-
tempt to turn TAs into a more con-
trollable work force."
Although many students, professors,
administrators, and even TAs believe
that the University relies too heavily pn
its teaching assistant work force, some
do not ,believe that a full-scale
elimination of TAs will solve the
"I DON'T REALLY believe that the
TAs are the primary problem, and that
if you resolve the issue of what to do
with TAs or get rid of them, that all of a
sudden you would have a superlativ
undergraduate program," Levy said.
He and others maintain that a greater
commitment to' undergraduate
education is needed, and that the tenure
system, which emphasizes research
and publication in promotion con-
siderations, must be modified to stress
"The University has not made it clear
to the undergraduate faculty that it
matters that they do a good job," Levy
Knott points out that it "may be too
easy for the faculty to plug TAs into the
kinds of courses that in some cases they
should be teaching themselves"
THE LSA administration is actively
trying to get more faculty involved at
the undergraduate level, and last term
instituted a Freshman Seminar
program which featured small classes
taught by full professors,
Knott said more restrictive policies
on the use of TAs in upper-level courses
are also being adopted..
Some TAs, however, view the move to
reduce their responsibilities "as an at-
tempt to eliminate us because we're a
troublesome lot. The University wants
less obstreperous teachers."
How much of the educational ex-
perience of college would be lost with

the reduction or elimination of TAs?
Even the students, who are perhaps
most affected by TAs, have mixed
feelings. One LSA sophomore obser-
ved: "The best and worst teachers I've
had have been TAs."

Professor Lloyd Gartner
Tel-Aviv University
"Assimilation and
American Jewry"

- I

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