back to article UC Berkeley told to cough up $5m in compensation to comp-sci, engineering students recruited to teach classes

The University of California, Berkeley is under pressure to cough up more than $5m to reimburse computer-science students who were denied benefits and tuition fee refunds despite working as part-time teaching assistants. This comes after UAW Local 2865 – a union representing more than 19,000 tutors, graduate student …

  1. Don Casey

    ... another thing about Cal and CS...

    A year after I got my degree in Computer Science (1970), one Steve Wozniak enrolled. He later dropped out, and had a significantly larger impact on computing that I ever did... so much for the value of a degree. So yeah, BSD, and Cal arguably played a roll in the formative years of an Apple co-founder. Also INGRES, arguably the first complete implementation of a relational DBMS came from work by Cal professors M. Stonebraker and E. Wong. RISK and RAID have roots in Cal research. 7 ACM/Turing awards.

    1. sbt Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Just goes to show ...

      ... being a worthy research or academic establishment doesn't make one a worthy employer.

      Maybe it would be less open to abuse if the benefits, rather than needing a 25% threshold, were applied on a sliding scale.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Just goes to show ...

        I'm not certain I follow your line of thought here. Students have taught at virtually every "school of higher learning" world-wide, with no financial compensation, since time immemorial.

        Note that I'm not condoning the practice ... nor am I vilifying it. I'm just pointing out the obvious.

        1. sbt Silver badge

          No financial compensation

          I'm not sure which line of thought you're referring to; the worthy employer or the 25% benefits threshold.

          If you treat recruitment of TAs as a form of internship, where you have a program to recruit into academia from the student body and give students an opportunity to experience the challenges and rewards of teaching and decide whether to pursue it as a career, that's fine. Proper unpaid internships need to follow some program and be limited in scope to avoid issues of exploitation.

          As these students were being paid (but allegedly under-compensated), this situation appears to have been more exploitative and designed to cope with teaching loads for minimum outlay. Referring to practices at other institutions risks the trap of "whataboutism".

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Students have taught ... with no financial compensation,

          In the six of the universities I've learnt or worked in (of seven total, over more than three decades), students doing teaching were paid for their teaching. The remaining one probably did, except there I had little contact with that aspect of things and cannot be sure.

        3. ratfox Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Just goes to show ...

          I'm not sure where you live or studied, but I was paid something like $20 an hour for being a math TA, which I thought was reasonable...

          That said, I'm not sure why the university is at fault here? It's pretty standard to design part-time employment contracts to avoid paying the benefits associated with full-time. It's a bit weird to say that the threshold is 25%, then say it's cheating to aim for 20%. It feels a bit like getting a fine for running a red light "just before it turned red".

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: ... another thing about Cal and CS...

      Neither UNIX or BSD existed at Cal when Woz was there. UNIX didn't get to Berkeley until 1974 (in the form of so-called "Research Unix", 4th Edition (upgraded almost immediately to 5th Edition)). Woz was gone before 1972. 1BSD was released in '77 ...

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: ... another thing about Cal and CS...

      He later dropped out, and had a significantly larger impact on computing that I ever did... so much for the value of a degree

      So much for the value of an anecdote, anyway.

  2. Michael Hoffmann

    Exploded Ironymeter...

    This in the Socialist People's Republic of Berkeley?!

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Exploded Ironymeter...

      Don't confuse Cal with the town of Berkeley. They are two very different things.

      1. StillBill

        Re: Exploded Ironymeter...

        Possibly different entities, but the same politics

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Exploded Ironymeter...

          Never mind odds are the GDP per capita from Berkeley dwarfs whatever place you are posting from smugly.

  3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Standard business logic

    "The 20 per cent appointments specifically have been used recently by the EECS department to respond to rapidly increasing enrollment."

    Presumably rapidly increasing enrolment has resulted in rapidly increasing revenue from fees and a requirement for more hours of teaching assistant work. Teaching assistant administration is now a bigger department with a bigger budget and all possible costs must be cut to feed the head bean counter's new bonus scheme.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Standard business logic

      And, of course, the sudden need for extra teaching capacity came as a complete shock in the wake of the rapid rise of enrolment and couldn't possibly have been planned for by taking on more full-time staff.

  4. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Just another example?

    I doubt that Berkeley should be singled out. The entire education and training systems of most nations became perverse ages ago. The almighty buck has for a long time dominated decision-making by both the institutions and the students, which has got us into much the same position the old USSR got itself into, where policy took precedence over reality and truth (although that was officially driven by political dogma rather than roubles). Nobody really wants to learn - they only want the diploma; nobody really teaches - they just cram folks for exams; exams are increasingly multiple choice, which just tests parrot memory, not understanding. As a result, "qualifications" are merely a passport through HR departments, and nobody checks whether they represent competence. The results are all around us to see and suffer from.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Just another example?

      I'm afraid that golden age never really existed. At a certain prestigious British university, it was in my time, and is now, entirely a matter of the luck of the draw as to whether your tutor/supervisor was a student (though usually a postgrad) or a senior member of academic staff. It was, and still is, the case that students get paid a fraction of what a member of academic staff would be paid (on top of their normal salary) for their supervision time. In my time as a student, the venerable professor (who was indeed a CS pioneer) hadn't bothered to update his lecture notes in years - copies made from copies on mechanical duplicators of code examples that no contemporary machine in the department could compile.

      It's true that students are now largely seen as a source of income, but in the past they were largely seen as a source of inconvenience. Rarely has there been much enthusiasm for educating them.

      1. Evil_Goblin

        Re: Just another example?

        I was "fortunate" enough to draw a senior member of academic staff.

        Unfortunately I drew the one who was so determined to avoid his students he removed his nameplate and room number from the door of his office, and also carried out the same on neighbouring offices. At the end of lectures he actually used to break into a run to avoid staying and answering questions.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Just another example?

      The almighty buck has for a long time dominated decision-making

      So what's your solution? Running a university is expensive. US universities rely heavily on non-tenured faculty (fixed-term and part-time) and high-tuition students (foreign and legacy) because they have to pay the bills and state support has plummeted over the past couple of decades. Students who aren't wealthy rely on loans they already can't afford, so they oppose tuition increases.

      Nobody really wants to learn - they only want the diploma; nobody really teaches - they just cram folks for exams; exams are increasingly multiple choice, which just tests parrot memory, not understanding.

      Sigh. It's easy to lob generalizations. I've been an academic (including a number of stints teaching) and many of my friends and family members are in academia, and I'm calling bullshit on this. Most of the professors and instructors I've known take teaching very seriously indeed, and a majority of the students - undergraduate and graduate - are sincere about learning, for the most part.

      Multiple-choice exams may be common in some areas, particularly for recitation classes; it's not feasible to grade several hundred essays in a couple of days. But I can only remember seeing a couple of them while studying for my three degrees (or the fourth that I never finished).

  5. antiquam bombulum

    University management screwing over employees???? Nooooo! I won't accept that!!! That has never happened anywhere before! University managements everywhere are kind, benevolent people committed utterly to doing the Right Thing. Excellence in research, teaching and advancing the well-being of staff and students, truth and decency are fundamental to all they do. Surely???

    1. Snake Silver badge

      Setting that University teaches the future leaders of business how you act and what you do, should we be surprised at the consistency of actions here?

  6. Cuddles Silver badge

    Too far the other way?

    On the one hand, it's clearly unreasonable to expect people to work without any pay or benefits (yes, the idea of unpaid interns is insane as well). But on the other hand, this appears to be saying that people who worked 8 hours per week for a year should be paid a salary of $22500. That seems pretty excessive for essentially untrained assistants working part time. Even a full time lecturer is unlikely to be making that sort of money, especially as a recent graduate (it's the equivalent of ~£90k, closer to a senior professor), and things like tutoring and teaching assistants take far less work than being the primary teacher running a course.

  7. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge


    Dear University of California, Berkeley

    You are cordially invited to relocate to Post Brexit BritainEngland where you'll be able to employ self-employed TAs on zero hour contracts at minimum wage, or lower if you can get away with it.

    Yours etc


    p.s. Any chance of a Honorary Degree?

  8. BuckeyeB

    Only in California can you follow the rules and still get shafted. I can't believe I am defending Berkeley. If the rule was over 10 hours per week(25%) and you have to pay them extra benefits and wages, and they had them work 8 hours per week(20%) I don't see what the problem is. They worked under the weekly amount and thus don't deserve the extra benefits. Seems to me that Berkeley is getting shafted by the union. If it should be 8 hours per week, then make the rule 8 hours per week. Or make it ANY employment gets extra benefits. But don't set a rule and then think it's unfair that they are "trying to get around the rule by having them work just under". Your rule sets the behavior. Don't complain about the behavior.

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