Friday, June 13, 2014

Time Sheets and Other Practical Matters

This week I had the opportunity to learn all about the "back end" administration of hiring hourly staff.  As a faculty member, I typically have absolutely nothing to do with the appointments of graduate students as TAs for my larger classes.  Sometimes I am asked if I have a preference for particular students, but more often than not, my preferences are ignored in the final allocation.  I am expected to make do with whatever I am given (which can be a significant issue when dealing with a very large class and a graduate program in which most of the TAs are 1st and 2nd year grad students--and so, especially in the fall, a good part of them are brand new to the university and have no previous job experience).

With the development of the Online Rome class, I have worked extensively with graduate students.  One senior graduate student worked with me last summer and in the spring on some of the "foundation building" work.  This summer, as we build out the course, I have a team of 2 recent PhDs, a current graduate student and an undergraduate student working with me.  A staff member in my College works with me to manage their appointments and keep me in the loop about my role in ensuring that they get paid.  I have not worked an hourly job since graduate school--and even then, I just reported the hours I worked.  Last summer, in working out the terms of my graduate student's appointment, I got a glimpse of some of the complexities that the online course development process is raising (e.g. is it a benefits-eligible appt?  Does it need to be? if so, who pays the tuition reimbursement?)  Our talented administrative staff is learning as they go, and no two appointments are alike.  I have learned to anticipate problems, be vigilant, but also to be patient.

UT Austin switched to an electronic timeseheet reporting system in the spring.  This week I had the pleasure of being trained to teach my students how to report their hours; and then how to monitor and sign off on their hours so that they would get paid on time.  One of the complications, a result of me having absolutely no sense of paying for work by the hour, was figuring out how to translate a total stipend into an hourly wage.  In my world, I work until a task is completed.  I am not paid by the hour (comp time is a concept that I only recently learned about!).  I am pretty good at determining task-based wages but ridiculously unable to think in terms of hourly wages.  This all got even more complicated when I was finally able to shift some extra money to a couple of the students, but only after setting their hourly rate.  So now they have to record about 10 extra hours/week in order to get paid the full amount of their stipend.

In the future, I hope to work with our staff to create a range of standard hourly wages that make sense, especially for summer appointments that have various restrictions if you want to avoid paying fringe (unnecessary because it has already been covered by the academic year appointment).  I am not a fan of paying for work by the hour, but this is the only option we have for these appointments.  So it will be important for faculty like me to learn how to define these appointments, keeping to all the rules and regulations and ensuring that the students aren't left on the hook for things like tuition (which is normally covered when they have a TA appointment for a campus-based course).