Stony Brook Cuts Teaching Assistants

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Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/revengingangel/3028152900/

I was browsing the Stony Brook Independent homepage a bit earlier (yes, I do work there), and stumbled upon this article addressing a recent cut of teaching assistants. Now, keep in mind that I’m not just using this as an excuse to play cheerleader for my campus media outlet of choice, but I do have to admit that this is gradually becoming a very real issue on campus.

After all, this is something that I’ve noticed in the past, and most of the time, it’s really pretty doubtful that I could even be more oblivious in class. To give you some context here, I’m actually the designated ‘confused’ kid in my broadcast class. If I had a dollar for every time my professor called me out for looking, in his words, “quizzical,” I’d probably be financially stable for life by the end of the semester.

Anyway, the point is that if this particular problem is poignant enough to have fallen under my gradually dimming radar, it must be pretty significant.

According to the article, 49 T.A.s have been cut this semester alone due to budget cuts. That really seems to be a central theme nowadays, doesn’t it, journalism majors? I mean, how many of your recent stories have been driven entirely by that premise? I’ve already written two pieces since last semester (and am currently in the process of writing another) that dealt, at least on a sidebar, with exactly that-programs slashed by cuts, students forced to make due with detrimental changes.

Those stories, however, had to do with students who were unable to get adequate funding for new clubs or equipment on campus (specifically, a set of guitar amplifiers and a new P.A. system for the Tabler Arts Center). This, rather, has to do with a student’s ability, or lack thereof, to get the most out of a college-level course, for which, by the way, their wallets have suffered in the wake of subsequent tuition spikes.

The repercussions are a little grating, to say the least. Once you scratch T.A.s out of the hierarchy, you lose much more than approachable sources who can compensate for a professor’s regularly clogged inbox and hyperactive schedule. With T.A.s, you lose extra office hours, pre-exam review sessions, (I’m one of those nerds who actually go to those things) and the chance to develop your writing skills through frequent paper-writing and analysis.

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Photo: http://www.pbisotopes.ess.sunysb.edu

The process, to put it bluntly, is homogenous. Let me put it this way-I’m sure most of you already know the format of your exams before you even catch a glimpse of the syllabus. Let’s see…it will probably be on some sort of paper with a bunch of blank bubbles. I’ll have to fill in about 50 of those things with a number two pencil and listen to a repetitive speech about filling in the exam number in the birthday column, (“Don’t fill in your birth date…I don’t have time to send cards,” joked my SOC 315 professor after yesterday’s midterm) and maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll be spared the lecture on how to properly color in a circle with this eraser-less golf pencil I yanked from the front of the room.

Make no mistakes-I’m not honestly going to sit here and complain that I’m not writing enough papers. I’m simply saying that the whole Opscan routine is getting a little repetitive. Yes, I understand that they’re easy to grade for a lone professor dealing with a large crowd, but enough with the fifty-question multiple choice midterms. How about a little variety?

Now, I’m a journalism major, and I can say with extreme confidence that I get at least a little bit of writing in there every now and then. Still, journalism stories are not exactly ‘academic’ papers-I can’t remember the last time I had to write a five-source feature story at a testing site.

In addition, for students who almost never get the opportunity to write, I would imagine that constant multiple-choice tests could present somewhat of a problem. If you go through an entire few years worth of classes without ever having to write a paper, and then get to the G.R.E. and are faced not only with a designated writing section, but an absurd vocabulary section that demands knowledge of the most out-there, outdated adjectives that just barely cling to existence in the English language, I can guarantee that you’re going to be a little stressed out, to say the least.

In addition, I suppose this is pretty obvious, but when you lose the T.A. position entirely, you lose the opportunity to become an undergraduate T.A. yourself (can you say ‘resume booster?’). Last semester, I was scheduled to be a T.A. for the writing class that I had taken the previous fall. At the last minute, the whole deal fell apart, and I was left without a resume and the seventy bucks that the job would have paid. I was not a happy undergrad.

My point is that I’ve seen this now so many times and in so many classes that it’s practically a blur. I have little doubt that this campus is going to start feeling the exodus of T.A.s very shortly now that the semester is finally settling into itself. Assuredly, they’ll at least be missed once that first midterm needs grading.

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