Faculty Council On Teaching and Learning

Charge, 2016 – 2017

The Office of the Dean of the College’s 2013 policy on Undergraduate Course Assistants (UCAs) articulates how faculty may hire undergraduates to assist with low-stakes grading in a given course.  The UCA role has enormous potential to have a beneficial impact on student success in these courses, given that their help with, and feedback on, assignments is more timely and individualized.   But they benefit the undergraduate experience of the UCAs themselves.  The opportunity to work closely with faculty, lecturers, and graduate students as part of a concerted effort to support student achievement helps UCAs grow as learners and as teachers.

In recent years the number of UCAs has grown significantly.  They have taken on additional responsibilities for some aspects of course instruction, including running review sessions, offering supplementary precepts, and answering questions about assignments in a study hall or review session format.  UCAs are primarily engaged in large introductory STEM courses. In the past year, however, they supported a freshman seminar, a course offered as part of the Freshman Scholars Institute, and an upper-level economics course.

In light of the increasing and evolving demand for UCAs, it is clear that our policy does not adequately address the various ways that UCAs currently function at the University. Questions around undergraduate roles in the classroom are all the more timely as the National Labor Relations Board’s August 23, 2016 decision granting graduate assistants at private institutions the right to unionize also extends to undergraduates who assist a faculty member with the instruction or grading of a course.

Accordingly, I am asking the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning to review our policies and procedures regarding Undergraduate Course Assistants.  In particular, the committee should consider the following questions and make recommendations for improving our system:

  • How are UCAs currently used to support undergraduate instruction and what responsibilities are they assigned?
  • Should there be limitations to the work assigned to UCAs? If so, what are they?
  • Are the precautions against potential conflict of interest stated in our current policy adequate and effective?
  • What oversight of the UCA role should there be at the University, department, and course levels?
  • Should there be a centralized process for engaging UCAs?
  • How can we efficiently track UCAs (e.g., courses in which they are assisting each semester and responsibilities) for reporting purposes?
  • What are the goals of the program for the UCAs themselves?  What is the appropriate level of UCA training and support?
  • Have other institutions developed effective models for training and supporting UCAs?  If so, what are they and would they translate to Princeton?