Brown Computer Science Department Response to TALO

    July, 24 2023

    Brown’s CS undergraduate TA program is a unique feature of the department that has helped create an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming learning environment for students. This happened largely due to the thousands of enthusiastic and dedicated TAs going back to 1965. The CS department would like to make sure that any problems that occur today are corrected and that the program remains enjoyable and rewarding for all participants—students, TAs, and faculty. This document is a statement of position and principles; negotiation of the details of a future contract and the details of implementing these principles will happen in the bargaining process.

    In many ways, the CS Department and TALO are trying to achieve the same goals while resolving some of the same underlying issues. Namely:

    • We want to make Brown CS courses available to all students who want to take them.

    • We want to provide a supportive environment where students receive excellent support in their learning, no matter their background.

    • We want to create opportunities for creative contributions to courses in development and instruction that yield rewarding teaching and leadership experiences for TAs.

    • We want to keep the individual and diverse cultures of our courses alive.

    • And we want to do all of this while respecting that TAs are also students and employees, keeping their workload and responsibilities reasonable and avoiding stress and overwork.

    The CS faculty realize that department culture has, at times, put TAs in uncomfortable positions, being faced with student and instructor demands that were hard to satisfy. We understand and affirm that instructors need to take the primary leadership role in their courses and are ultimately responsible for course content and execution. We recognize that some TAs have shouldered burdens in excess of what can be expected of them, and we want to put strong guardrails in place that ensure the TA role remains a rewarding experience as well as a good job.  We believe that supporting instructor autonomy and freedom in the classroom greatly benefits students by maintaining the individuality of our courses and allowing different pedagogical approaches and assignment structures to blossom. This diversity of teaching methods leads to a diversity of TA duties and faculty-TA interaction models across courses that must be clearly communicated to TAs at the time of application and respected throughout the course’s progression.  To keep CS courses accessible to all students, when there are not enough qualified TA applicants to meet the demand for a course, we must work to adapt the course, rather than capping enrollment or asking TAs to work more.

    We are committed to working together with the University and TALO in taking the steps incorporated into the Interim Contract to improve the working conditions of our valued TAs, including cultural changes and administrative improvements. We want the TA program to continue to be a unique and rewarding experience and acknowledge TA labor’s critical role in making Brown CS what it is today.