5.14. Some Additional Comments on Professional Conduct

Further Comments on Professional Conduct (Avoiding Nepotism, Sexual Harassment, etc.)

TAs are officially employees of the University of Minnesota, and are therefore held to high standards of professional conduct. This includes, but is not limited to, avoiding academic misconduct; avoiding nepotism, sexual harassment, and other inappropriate interpersonal conduct; taking appropriate care of students records and confidential course material; being present and on time to course staff meetings, office hours, etc.; and replying to communications from students, other TAs, the course teacher, and department staff in a timely manner.

One part of being a successful TA is to treat all students with respect and strive to help all of them to learn. This means avoiding inappropriate behavior such as making disparaging remarks about students, or engaging in sexual harassment. It also means not limiting TA help to certain students in the class. Consider the following scenarios:

  1. A TA is also a member of a University club. Is it OK for the TA to give club members copies of past exams, answer keys, etc. that the TA has access to?
  2. A TA has a family member taking a class. Is it OK for the TA to be a TA for that class?
  3. Is it OK for a TA to provide special help sessions for a student the TA particularly likes?

Each of this illustrates a potential problem. In the first scenario, a couple relevant factors are whether the teacher is OK with the club members having the material, and whether students in the class would also have access to the material. For example, if the TA gave club members in the class copies of the material, but others in the class did not have access, then that is unfair.

The second scenario brings up the topic of nepotism. This is an important enough topic that the University has an official policy on Nepotism and Personal Relationships. TAs should avoid evaluating the work of anyone they are closely related to, or have a close relationship with. If this situation arises, TAs should consult with the teacher: in many cases it will be possible to structure the TA's duties to avoid any problems. However, in some cases it might be necessary to assign the TA to another class.

The third scenario likewise brings up some potential problems. Being willing to give students extra help is of course laudatory, and is not a problem in and of itself. However, problems can arise, for example, if a TA is willing to help only students the TA likes, or if the TA is trying to use the help sessions to start a romantic relationship.

In summary, TAs should

  • Treat all students with respect, and aim to help all to learn.
  • Avoid giving any students an undue advantage. (TAs will, of course, need to use good judgment about what "undue" means. Note, for example, that holding a special help session for students who are struggling would be fine.)
  • Know and follow University rules about behavior such as nepotism and sexual harassment.
  • Use good judgment when deciding what is and is not appropriate TA behavior, and ask the course teacher, TA supervisor, etc. when unsure.