When creating Assistant Instructor (AI)-supervisor agreements there are several topics that both the student and the supervising faculty member should be made aware of, discuss and/or agree upon.
While some of the employment onboarding may be managed by a graduate coordinator, program administrator or department business officer, the supervising faculty member should still be aware of university rules surrounding student eligibility and conditions of employment. The details of the job description, time management, performance expectations and assessments and grievance processes should be discussed and agreed upon by the student and supervisor. Signatures from both parties should be obtained and retained by the department or graduate program.
Eligibility and Conditions of Employment
Many graduate students serving as AIs received a commitment of employment through a letter of financial support when they were admitted to the graduate program. These letters generally establish the eligibility and conditions of employment for these students. In other cases, programs may wish to provide an offer letter to the student employee.
Human Resources has guidelines for hiring student employees, including a template for an employment offer letter.
New student employees will need to complete onboarding tasks, outlined in the New Student Employee Checklist.
Programs must also inform students of the university’s Title IX policy and how it applies to their role. Student employees are required to complete Title IX training every two years.
The Graduate School maintains a webpage with conditions of employment that can be provided to students and appointing staff. These conditions require that AIs:
- Make satisfactory progress toward a graduate degree without existing conditional admission requirements;
- Remain registered for at least nine semester hours of coursework in long semesters. (Enrollment in three semester hours of coursework is required for students holding summer appointments);
- Maintain at least a 3.0 grade-point average; and
- Must not have more than two grades of X, I, NC, D, or F in any combination.
The Handbook of Operating Procedures (HOP 9-2010) stipulates the following eligibility requirements for graduate students serving as AIs:
- Good academic standing at the time of application and during the semester employed
- A master’s degree or completion of 30 credit hours of graduate coursework
- Completion of one semester as teaching assistant (TA)
- Completion of a teaching methods (398T) course
Graduate programs may also stipulate additional eligibility requirements for students serving as AIs for specific courses, such as a degree in a particular field or pre-requisite coursework. Examples of these requirements are as follows:
- Maintain acceptable course-instructor survey ratings
- Proficiency in specific skills as identified by the supervising faculty member for the course assigned
- Proficiency in the English language as demonstrated by a passing score on the International Teaching Assistant Exam (international AIs only)
- Consent of faculty research/dissertation supervisor
The Handbook of Operating Procedures (HOP 9-2010) provides the general job description for assistant instructors.
The AI position is defined as “A non-faculty, academic position held by an eligible graduate student with the primary duties of teaching undergraduate classes and providing instruction under the supervision of a University faculty member.” AIs typically teach lower-division undergraduate classes. Approval by the Dean of the Graduate School is required for an AI to teach an upper-division undergraduate course (email requests to: firstname.lastname@example.org). AIs may not be appointed to teach graduate-level courses, even by petition. The department must designate a faculty supervisor for an AI for each assigned course.
AI-supervisor agreements should clearly specify the expected duties of the AI for the assigned course, and these duties must be acknowledged and agreed to by both the supervising professor and the student. HOP 9-2010 describes the duties of AIs as:
- Serve as the instructor of record for lecture classes, laboratories, and/or discussion sections
- Hold office hours
- Adhere to a syllabus that follows university and departmental guidelines
Departments and faculty supervisors may also request other duties of AIs, and these should be acknowledged and agreed to by all parties. It is also good practice to specify in the agreements activities that are prohibited, such as performing personal tasks for the supervisor. AIs and supervisors should also agree upon methods for communicating during the semester and frequency of meetings, guidance, and feedback. International students may have communication, guidance, and feedback needs different from domestic students, so it is important that these expectations are discussed and agreed upon by the AI and the supervisor.
Students serving as AIs are encouraged to use the Center for Teaching and Learning’s resources for instructional strategies.
AIs are typically appointed in positions with scheduled weekly hours ranging from 10 to 20 hours. AIs do not submit time sheets, so there is not a formal means of documenting the actual time spent per week. Therefore, it is important to establish the expectations for time management prior to the beginning of the semester, and it is important to have both the AI and the supervising faculty member agree to these expectations.
AIs may not be asked by the supervising professor or department to work more, on average, than their weekly hours for a course. It is good practice for the supervising professor to help the AI establish a regular weekly schedule at the beginning of the semester, accounting for time needed to accomplish the duties included in the job description. A job description checklist, for example, can include the estimated weekly hours for each of the selected tasks.
AIs do not accrue vacation time or sick leave. Therefore, the AI-supervisor agreement should outline expectations regarding planned or unplanned absences. Similarly, the AI-supervisor agreement should address expectations for working during exam periods and breaks (excluding official university holidays) in line with school, college, or departmental policies.
While the job description sets the duties to be performed by an AI, the AI-supervisor agreement should also address performance standards for those duties. Examples of performance expectations include:
Follow instructions, meet deadlines, and complete designated work.
Cooperate with supervisors and treat students and co-workers respectfully.
Be punctual (report to class, lab, discussion sections, and meetings on time).
Return student work in a timely fashion.
Provide prior notification and alternate plans before absences, delays, or inability to meet duties.
Meet a reasonable, objective measure of efficiency and productivity.
Follow accepted safety practices.
Follow protocols and other established procedures.
AIs should be given feedback on their performance, both by the students and their supervisor. Mid-semester feedback is advisable in order to identify performance concerns early and provide opportunities for improvement. When problems are identified, performance improvement plans should be developed and agreed upon by the AI and supervisor. The frequency and form of performance assessments should be specified in the AI-supervisor agreement.
Students generally evaluate AIs through the Course-Instructor Survey, but programs may choose to use additional performance assessment tools. There are several methods that can be used by the supervisor to report AI assessments to the department or program, including submission of a letter, Qualtrics survey or Docusign survey. The results of the assessment should be communicated to the AI within a specified timeline outlined in the agreement. When appropriate and relevant, the assessment can be used as a means to recommend AIs for reward and advancement opportunities.
Grievance and Dispute Resolution Processes
AIs should be informed of dispute resolution and grievance processes when problems arise. The Graduate School provides a summary of grievance procedures for graduate students. Some schools, colleges, departments, and programs have additional grievance procedures and guidance for dispute resolution. These policies and procedures should be made clear to the AI and the supervisor through the AI-supervisor agreements.
If the AI’s grievance is specifically related to employment, the procedure is outlined in HOP 9-2050.
Human Resources provides guidelines for student employment separations when performance problems cannot be resolved. Information on grounds for dismissal should be included in AI-supervisor agreements so that both parties are aware of the policies and procedures.