We’ve all been in that class: the one with hundreds of students, five teaching assistants, one professor and … the final paper.
Obviously this paper is important; it is a part of your grade, after all. Some might say that because of its importance it should be read by a professor, not a TA. But the paper pales in comparison to what professors have to do to survive in academia.
First is the old saying, “publish or perish,” and it is very real. Usually, an academic who does not publish a book and a certain amount of articles will not get tenure and could be fired. Even after tenure, the pressure for professors to stay relevant and productive entails publishing something at least every year or two.
The pieces professors are expected to produce are not the tiny response papers you complain about getting assigned in that class with the five TAs. The professors’ papers consist of original ideas that are criticized, pulled apart and sometimes violently rejected in fields in which one bad paper can bring your credibility into question.
Then there are the conferences professors attend. It is not uncommon for a professor to attend at least three per semester, and each of those could require long-distance travel and a paper and presentation of its own, except now the readers can question and abuse the author in person.
Add to that a teaching load, grant applications, committee memberships, department advising, faculty meetings, journal editing — and families or free time (if there are a few minutes at the end of the day) — and you get the life of an average professor who is just barely able to keep his or her job and remain active in his or her field.
So when 250 three-page papers come across their desks with your response to one chapter in one history book, these professors have two options: give them to a TA, or read them and get your grade to you in about a year or so.
Do not be deceived: Those TAs have worked to put together an academic resume and skill set and are likely reading multiple books per week, conducting original research and learning literally everything possible about their subjects for lovely exams called “compositions.”
TAs are more than qualified to read your three-page paper, and to suggest otherwise is intellectual hubris of the highest degree.
Erik Shell is a junior classical languages and literature and history major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.