Undergrad TF's Make the Grade

The issue of undergraduate teaching fellows (TFs) evaluating the work of their peers has far-reaching academic implications. We think the University's rules regarding undergraduate teaching trivialize the students' expertise and the jobs themselves.

According to Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz, students are only allowed to grade material that is "objectively right or wrong." This requirement reduces student TFs to grading machines, simply checking off words or numbers as they appear. No knowledge of subject matter or skills of assessment are necessary for this job. Under this criterion, anyone at all could grade work for any class.

Since the job of TF means much more than grading, this objective-only rule denigrates the expertise of undergraduate TFs. They have to be well-versed in their fields to teach weekly sections--why should they be prohibited from applying this expertise to the mundane task of grading?

In reality, few problem sets or tests can be graded completely objectively. When it comes time to assign partial credit or to evaluate alternative solutions and arguments, experience and knowledge become very important. While the University's objective-only rule exists, it could hardly be enforced without eliminating the duties of most undergraduate TFs and course assistants.

We are sure the University had good intentions when it formulated its regulations. After all, we wouldn't want undergraduate TFs arguing about grades with students who considered themselves their equals (which, from a stand-point of expertise, they are not).


But undergraduate TFs can gain the respect of their students through sections, office hours and even a thorough and clearly explained grading system. Professors give undergraduate TFs responsibilities as a matter of trust as well as an occasional manifestation of laziness. That trust should be sufficient to satisfy any University regulation. It's time to scrap the objective-only rule and let professors decide what their TFs can and can't do.