Prall: A salute to TAs

BY JACOB PRALL | MARCH 12, 2015 5:00 AM

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Who among us hasn’t sat in class led by a courageous graduate student? They’re everywhere: in line at your favorite coffee shop, out at your favorite bars, and behind your classroom podium. 

So when the University of Iowa charges them backdoor tuition through mandatory “fees,” it is both the students’ and teachers’ duty to march hand in hand in solidarity against such injustice.

But really, graduate student employees keep UI’s undergraduate programs in motion. The university would fold from the sheer number of undergraduates without the work these graduate students do. Some fields of study, such a English and creative writing, rely heavily on the graduate students-turned-teachers. Despite this, the state Board of Regents still feels that tweaking mandatory fees to pay for ambiguous, zero-transparency items is a good thing. 

Tuition isn’t supposed to be a problem for these employees, yet mandatory fees have been mutated into a fearsome form of tuition. Who could fight the good fight against a board of such utter regency? COGS, the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students. This union represents 2,300 graduate-student employees at the UI. Whether they’re leading your discussion sections or are teaching the bulk of your course, they have collective power through unionization.

We can all celebrate over COGS’s recent negotiation victory for its upcoming contract. COGS told the regents it wanted mandatory fees gone for workers, and the regents had to budge on their position. Twenty-five percent of mandatory fees will now be paid for by the UI. Where the mandatory fees actually go to will still be ambiguous and deserves further investigation.

COGS has had a very successful bargaining season, especially its report, “Tuition By Another Name: Student Fees Lack Transparency and Contribute to the Student Debt Crisis,” which grabbed some traction.

Part of the problem with reimbursed tuition and mandatory fees is the lack of equal application. Some colleges, such as the College of Education, increased tuition costs. Reimbursed tuition only covers what the College of Arts and Sciences charges, creating a higher level of entry for those seeking a master’s or doctorate degree. The regents have been forced to fold, giving those who are actually pursuing education as a career some relief by reimbursing all their tuition.

Student debt is a big enough problem for those who spend more than four years in school, without even mentioning being charged by their place of employment.

If the job market is hard on those with bachelor’s degrees, postgraduate education becomes highly attractive to those who wish to be competitive in the global marketplace. Why would the UI ever want to discourage such ambition with pricey fees?

And so, I implore you, the next time you see a graduate student teaching a class, barge into the classroom and throw your arms around her or him. If their students weren’t hugging them already, then it probably wasn’t a very good learning environment anyway. After all, they do a lot for us undergraduates. They’re teachers, mentors, friends, confidants, and support systems. Big brothers and sisters to us little fish in a 31,000-plus koi pond. They deserve our respect.

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