Teaching Assistantship: Conflict of Interest and Tutoring

Motivation

UBC policy #97, procedure item 3.1, reads:

3.1. [...] The following are examples of situations where a Conflict of Interest exists:

3.1.1. Where a UBC Person’s responsibility to instruct and evaluate students in a fair, unbiased and effective manner is or could be impeded or compromised. The inherent power imbalance that exists between a UBC Person and a student must not be used for personal benefit. [...]

3.1.3. Where a UBC Person or a Related Party has a Financial Interest in their teaching activities at the University, other than their annual salary from the University.

Policy

A teaching assistant with an active appointment at any of the Computer Science department's courses may not tutor any student who is enrolled in the course(s) to which the teaching assistant is assigned. This policy includes tutorship that is not part of the regular teaching assistant duties where the TA receives some kind of benefit, financial or otherwise.

Any assistance that is provided by a teaching assistant to a student enrolled in the same course must be provided as part of the regular activities of the teaching assistant. The teaching assistant's availability to students must be fair to all students -- in other words, the teaching assistant must be accessible to all students within the context of the allotted time (e.g. all students enrolled in the lab, or all students allocated to a particular activity by the instructor) in accessible conditions (e.g. in the Demco Learning Centre or a lab during regular working hours), and the provided assistance must be included in the TA's time allocation and approved by the instructor. TA's should not receive any benefit (financial or otherwise) for helping a student beyond their TA salary.

This policy is not intended to stop a teaching assistant from being flexible in helping students who need assistance (e.g. by staying beyond the lab allotted time or answering a question in informal situations). On the contrary, teaching assistants are encouraged to engage students in the learning process. The sole purpose of this policy is to avoid situations in which this extra help provides an unfair advantage (or disadvantage) to a group of students or if the teaching assistant has a financial interest (or another kind of benefit) in providing this extra support beyond his or her salary.

If a teaching assistant tutors a student who is enrolled in the same course on topics related to the course in question, this constitutes a clear conflict of interest. However, there is a possibility of a perceived conflict of interest even when the tutoring is focused on different subjects. In other words, a teaching assistant should avoid tutoring a student who is enrolled in one of their courses, even if the assistance is related to a different course.

Should there be a case where assistance or availability is compromised and/or there is a potential perceived conflict of interest, it is the TA's responsibility to contact the department and, if needed, arrange for a different course assignment. If a new assignment is not possible or practical, a case-by-case analysis will be arranged.

If a perceived conflict of interest is not clear, or if another related issue requires attention, the case should be brought to the attention of the instructor, the TA coordinator (ta-coordinator@cs.ubc.ca) and, if necessary, the Department's Associate Head of Undergrad Affairs (ah-ugrad@cs.ubc.ca). The TA Operations Committee may advise on the proper action to be taken, if needed.

TAs are advised that failure to comply to similar policies in other departments at UBC has resulted in administrative actions, and in some cases, termination of employment.

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