Policy needed for TA’s

NIU’s geography department needs to get its act together.

The department decided this summer to change its policy by allowing only graduate students to become teaching assistants. This was a grand decision, but shouldn’t the department have had this policy all along?

It also seems the department’s stance on this issue has been blurry for some time, especially for students. One undergraduate student complained in a letter to the editor that he was led to believe all summer he would be allowed to teach this semester. Why was he allowed to apply in the first place?

Previously, undergraduate students were allowed to teach in laboratory classes. Students even sent letters themselves criticizing the quality of education they had been receiving from undergraduate TA’s.

Sue Doederlein, one of the head honchos in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, of which the geography department falls under, believes students should not be taught by those who are applying for the same degree. But each department is able to set its own policy on the matter, and some departments still do allow undergraduate students to teach.

This is wrong. Students do not pay thousands of dollars in tuition to be taught by someone with little or no experience. Departments claim they are giving exceptional students the opportunity to teach their peers. However, the cold truth is that it is a way for departments to dole out cheap education because of lack of funds. In some instances having undergrads teach undergraduate courses frees up professors who want to conduct research.

All of this hinders undergraduate education. The fact that undergraduates are ever allowed to teach courses is deplorable.

While departments should be given as much freedom as possible, this is one time the university should make a policy and a statement – that they will not allow undergraduates to teach courses and will ensure a quality undergraduate education over research.

The debate over undergraduate education vs. research will soon engulf the higher education community. The Illinois Board of Higher Education plans to release a report on what the emphasis is in higher education. NIU seems to be moving more and more in the direction of research over undergraduate education.

If NIU does not reverse this trend itself, the IBHE might.