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MCS department may suffer if cuts approved for student T.A.s, graders

The Campanil takes issue with an administrative proposal to cut funds for teaching assistants in the mathematics and computer science departments at Mills College. Under the plan, TAs in both departments would lose all their funding. The math department especially relies on students to grade homework and teach workshops, and math students have already taken a pay cut.

We believe that such a move would send a dangerous message about the future of these small yet integral parts of our academic community-especially at a College that espouses its commitment to furthering the advancement of women in math and science.

What woman has not been confronted at some point in her life with the generalization that she can probably craft an amazing sentence but cannot solve an algebra problem? Cutting funding for TAs, women who are both especially skilled and exhibit such effective leadership ability that they are able to teach workshops to help their peers and grade homework, seems like that same generalization in a different form.

At Mills, traditional fields of female inclusion, such as English, don’t seem to be hurting quite as much. The fact that the English department is searching for a new fiction workshop teacher at the same time that other departments are being told students can’t even be paid relatively low wages to help teach seems rather odd.

Granted, the English program is considerably one of the largest departments on campus, and is still privy to across-the-board budget cuts. But teaching intensive math courses takes resources, and if the College wanted to build large math and computer science departments on campus, it would take the necessary steps to do so.

This move, if passed by the Board of Trustees in late February, would no doubt be explained as a painful but necessary decision given the College’s current economic situation.

In a memo President Janet Holmgren sent to the Mills community on Jan 27, she said the College’s endowment has sunk 35 percent over the last 18 months, and that her administration planned to cut $2.5 million from the budget for the 2010 fiscal year, namely from faculty and staff budgets and salaries. What the President did not mention is what her close team of officials will do to share the burden of tightened purse strings.

If the College wishes to support its most vital constituency (i.e. the students), it must adequately fund academic departments. The mission of the College should be to educate women in a rigorous liberal arts setting to become leaders in their communities and contributors in their field.

As traditionally male-dominated subjects, and ones in which students are taught analytic skills that will prove useful for any future career, it is in the College’s interest to maintain TAs within the math and computer science departments.