I uncovered some bad news on Friday. I was not given a TA assignment for this term. Earlier in the week, I still had not heard from my department, so I e-mailed the prof I did TA work for last year. He did not respond all week. I started to make some calls on Friday.

First, though, some background is necessary to understand the situation. Last year I was a TA for APSC 150 for both terms. I know the prof who runs this course. I knew him well when I was in undergrad and he’s continued to be a supportive figure in my graduate career. Profs have free reign over who they get as TAs for their courses. After the first term, I really enjoyed being a TA for APSC 150. I spoke to the prof and told him I’d like to return for the second term. He was nice enough to accept my request, and I was on-board for the second term. After the academic year ended, we had to put in our forms for TA assignments for this year, this was around the beginning of the summer. I again asked him if he would have me back. He responded it would be a pleasure to have me back. I took this as an indication he would make the necessary arrangements to have me back, just like he did last term.

Fast forward to August 2004. I am now working for an ESL program for incoming first-year engineering students. I am the program assistant. I am in contact with the very same prof because he’s scheduled to give a lecture on APSC 150. These new students need to hear about this course, because it’s core. Over e-mails we communicate about APSC 150. I even remember talking to him in person about APSC 150.

“Have any of the case studies been revised for this year?”

“Yes, we’ve taken two of the case studies out, and replaced them.”

“I look forward to seeing them.”

I even gave a lecture to the students about APSC 150 from a TA’s perspective of the course. I told the students outright that I’d be a TA for APSC 150 this year and that they might get me as a TA.

So on Friday, I call the prof to see what has happened. He tells me he’s already made the six TA assignments for APSC 150. My heart drops. I ask him how that has happened. He tells me six names came across his desk and he didn’t even notice my name wasn’t one of them. He said it didn’t even cross his mind that I wanted to be a TA for APSC 150. I’m almost in a panic now, but I politely remind him of the e-mail that he sent that stated he’d love to have me back. He doesn’t really have an answer for this, but he tells me to phone the admin assistant at the department who handles this stuff. I hang up and get her on the phone. I ask her why I didn’t get an assignment for APSC 150. She nonchanlantly tells me I just didn’t get one. I ask her if I got any assignments. In the same tone, she says I don’t have any assignments. I have no work as a TA this term. I ask her how that is possible. She says there lots of applicants. She also tells me a critical piece of news. She sent out an e-mail to all the faculty members asking if they wanted anyone specific for their classes. I end my conversation with her.

I call back the prof. I explain to him what she had said to me. He admits that he did receive her e-mail about asking for specific students for classes. He tells me he just didn’t respond to that e-mail. That is why he got six random names that didn’t include me. I explain to him that I really depending on that TA position. Not because I wanted to pad my academic resume but because I need the money to pay for rent and put food on the table. I explain to him that unlike almost all engineering graduate students, I am not funded, that I pay for every cent of my education. He responds by saying he’ll try to find me some money somewhere. He mentions doing some odd hours related to my summer job. I am not filled with confidence. My boss from my summer job mentioned something about doing one day a week during the term. That’s peanuts compared to a legitimate TA posting.

Here is the financials behind this debacle. The TA posting for APSC 150 is worth approximately $3000 for the term, or just under $800 a month. There is no way working one day a month is going to come even close to that. Even if I worked a few hours a week for my old boss, it would be like comparing apples and oranges. TA wages are much higher than any random on-campus job.

Though it matters little now, I’m wondering if I should have explicitly said to the prof every day of freaking summer, “Even though I’m talking about APSC 150 everytime I communicate with you, you know I want to come back as a TA for that course right?” In fact, I now realize if I had bugged him day in and day out, this wouldn’t have been a problem. I thought he knew though. I saw him several times in August. I asked him about the changes to the course. And this was just days before he had to make the TA assignments for APSC 150.

I am almost certain he didn’t do this on purpose, but this casual slip of the mind has now wound up costing me about $3000 that I was depending on to survive. I feel powerless that some small clerical error, some simple mistake will kick me in the ass.

I guarantee you that whatever “make-up” provisions are made (and I highly doubt anyone will do this for me), it won’t even come close to what I would have gotten as a TA.

This, however, isn’t the end of the matter. I won’t get into specifics but there are some legal avenues I am exploring. If you are or were a TA, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about based all the evidence I’m given so far.

I’ll keep everyone posted.

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