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  • The Edict

TFs voice concerns about contracts, common spaces

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

By Raghav Bansal and Shreya Agarwal

Teaching Fellows (TFs) at Ashoka University support professors in the smooth running of the courses- with solving doubts, holding discussion sessions and grading being their key responsibilities. Recently, the Edict reached out to TFs to understand more about their experience on campus.

Contractual Obscurity

A concern among the Teaching Fellows at Ashoka was in regard to their contract that is issued by the university. As has been informed, the university does not offer any kind of insurance or medical benefits within the contract, which makes the contract “unsatisfactory” according to many TFs. One TF succinctly described her concern by saying, “we find ourselves somewhere in the liminal space between students and professors. We get access to neither of the resources available to both these groups, from funding opportunities to health insurance during our contract.”

One of the TFs interviewed said that the fact that their contract’s duration is just 4 months brews uncertainty for their future prospects. For the work they put in, they aren’t given the assurance that they would have liked. The contracts currently do not get renewed by default for a whole year. According to the TFs, they could be extended to a full academic year.

The Edict reached out to Prof. Bharat Ramaswami, the Dean of Academic Affairs (DAA) to get a response. The DAA reasoned that most candidates whom the university interviews for the role are looking for a temporary position, as a means to polish skills to ultimately move on to more permanent roles as academic instructors. “Most candidates don’t want to stay as a TF forever”, he said.

Moreover, the requirements for TF roles are unique to each department and these requirements keep changing, depending on the courses being offered.For example, class size and course rigour may differ, based on the Professor and the department. In such a scenario, the DAA said that the current system proves easier to navigate.

According to the Human Resources department, the format and clauses of the contracts are the same across the departments. So, while different departments may list out their own requirements, the structure of the contracts being issued, in terms of the period of work and resource availability, remains uniform.

No Common Space for TFs

Another issue that some TFs mentioned is the absence of a common space for the TFs. This limits the interaction among the TFs of different courses and departments. One of the TFs elaborated on this by saying, “The university is simply breeding disaffection and alienation in their employees but doesn't care enough since we are discarded quickly anyway.” Upon reaching out to Prof. Amita Baviskar, the Dean of Faculty, The Edict was told that this doesn’t come under their purview and the operations team has not responded to us till the time of writing this article

Inefficient Shuttles

One of the primary issues that a lot of TFs mentioned is the inefficient shuttle system. For TFs staying in TDI and Parker (accommodations near campus), the number of shuttles is low in comparison to the number of people staying there. As a result, they often miss shuttles due to capacity constraints and experience waiting time to reach campus. Moreover, for TFs staying in Delhi, the shuttle services are even worse because of high demand and long commute times.

One of the TFs, describing this situation, said, “The shuttle system is a mess. It's highly discouraging to go to Delhi because of how tedious the schedules are.” Another TF mentioned that there have been days this semester when she has reached home in Delhi post 12 am owing to a lack of space on earlier shuttles. Despite constant reminders, the administration has not responded to her concerns.

The DAA did accept that the current timetable, wherein classes sometimes end at 9 pm, causes great inconvenience to the TFs. This is true especially for those who travel long distances. “From next semester, the OAA is working to schedule more morning classes and discussion sessions instead of keeping them in evenings”, the DAA said.

Change in the Mess Venue

For the TF community, the change in the mess venue prior to the winter break last semester has sprung discomfort.

This began when the TFs were informed that the faculty mess is only meant for the ‘faculty’ and that the TFs cannot have their meals there. They now have to get their meals at the student mess. Unhappy with this, one of the TFs told the Edict, “Running to the (student) mess and eating in time for the next class is not really viable. At the faculty dining at least, we had a moment of privacy and the possibility of building a TF community.”

Another TF also pointed out the financial cost and the limitation of healthy food options available on campus. “I think the student mess is beyond overextended. Options on campus outside of the mess are pricey, so I avoid them. They're also generally unhealthy (like sandwiches full of Mayo and other high calorie sauces or oils)”

The role of a TF is very significant- to bridge the gap in the academic discourse between the students and the Professor in a liberal arts university. Their efforts and commitment to their role greatly impact the understanding of the course for the students. In that context, their job satisfaction matters not just to the university as a whole, but the student body too.

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