The "one flaw" in Harvard's teaching fellow system is the predominant voice of teaching fellows in grading student work, according to a survey published recently by the Committee on Teaching as a Career.
Based mostly on interviews with department heads and deans, the survey agreed with those who claim that the younger teachers intervene between the professor and the student, and that "the canny student, knowing his grade will come from the teaching fellow, adapts himself to the teaching fellow rather than to the professor."
On the whole, however, the present combination of age and youth is satisfactory, the survey said. "The teaching fellow brings qualities to the classroom that the older faculty member cannot bring. Experience is excellent, but enthusiasm and energy constitute excellence also."
The survey also praised the concern of faculty members in making the best possible selections for teaching fellow assignments. It cited two major problems, though, which prevent some departments from choosing the best graduate students.
In General Education A, a problem is the desire of most graduate students to work within their own departments, thus causing a shortage of qualified teachers. The report noted that Harold C. Martin, head of the department, has been forced to recruit teachers from graduate schools other than GSAS.
Nonetheless, Martin said he was "very satisfied" with the quality of Gen Ed A instructors. He added that he prefers to draw his teachers from a "wide spectrum," and that "students interested in literature are not always best qualified for the job."
Martin also denied that there is a shortage of qualified teachers.
The other problem cited by the survey exists in the Natural Sciences. Many of the best science students hold fellowships from the National Science Foundation, which forbids students to teach for pay. This means that teaching fellows must be drawn from a generally less capable group of students.