Amid the ongoing academic workers’ strike throughout the UC system, those in the UC Berkeley departments of electrical engineering and computer science, or EECS, data science and statistics have noted that cases of overtime work and long office hours are common problems faced by undergraduate and graduate student instructors.
Liam Tan, campus reader for CS 170 and former CS 70 undergraduate student instructor, or uGSI, said he would spend the hour between his discussion section and office hours fielding questions as well as having to make the hard choice between dinner and his students.
Experiences like Tan’s led academic workers in these departments to send a letter of demands to campus, according to Charlotte Le, campus head uGSI for CS 61A. The demands include improvements in staffing, funding, wait times for office hours and working conditions. The letter has also received support from campus lecturers and students who have called on campus to acknowledge the demands.
“At this point we’ve exhausted all of our other options,” Le said. “We’re just so tired of seeing people wait in office hours for so long … for weeks without getting a response. We’re all very determined and very hopeful that (these demands) will happen.”
In response, campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore noted that campus has received the proposal and is developing a response to address the concerns within the financial abilities of the university.
Part of the problem facing the departments is that current enrollment numbers are too high for academic workers to manage with the current funding allocated for staffing, according to Tan. He added that there is simply not enough money to hire more academic workers.
According to Tan, understaffing has led to a reliance on unpaid “academic interns” and volunteering clubs such as Computer Science Mentors to assist students with their coursework. Isabella Borkovic, campus uGSI for EECS 16B, added that the amount of students in the class and in similar classes is increasing faster than the money supplied for hiring.
“With the increase in … students, we have had to adapt in ways that we really don’t want to have to,” Tan said. “These students need more individualized attention, and that is something we’re not able to provide right now.”
Some of the unwanted adaptations include multiple-choice exams, automatic code readers and online-based classes, Tan noted.
Borkovic added that the issue is also exacerbated by the fact that professors and undergraduates make up a majority of campus’s EECS, data science and statistics teaching staff. She said undergraduates host office hours, create homework and discussion content, handle administrative duties and even make the course content.
Students and lecturers have come out in support of the demands, citing personal experiences as academic workers or with waiting in long queues for office hours, according to subsequent letters of support. Campus sophomore Margot Lavitt said office hour wait times can hurt students’ ability to get help on confusing coursework as not everyone has hours of free time to wait for assistance.
Peyrin Kao, campus EECS lecturer and former graduate student instructor, said students are suffering the consequences of campus relying too heavily on understaffed and overworked academic workers to maintain classes.
“Overall, our demands are making sure the university is investing enough in the people who are doing the most of the teaching and pretty much all the research,” Le said. “(Invest) enough in these academic workers so that we’re able to maintain our position as a world-leading institution.”