Faculty reactions to a recent report on Harvard's teaching fellow system have raised several controversial questions.
The strongest reactions came from those who think teaching fellows are underpaid. One instructor declared that younger teachers are "exploited" by most of the departments and that "they work many more hours than they are paid for."
He also disagreed with the report's conclusion that department heads are concerned about choosing the best graduate students for teaching posts. Most departments "couldn't care less," he said. Many unqualified students are allowed to teach, and "nothing is done when they are found to be bad."
Reuben A. Brower, professor of English, agreed that that teaching fellows are paid inadequately, but thought department heads are careful in their selection of graduate students.
"The teaching fellow system is terribly important," Brower added. "In all large lecture courses students should have the opportunity to perform in a small group and to talk over their papers with the person who marks them."
Brower advocated hiring more teaching fellows, in order to provide closer contacts between faculty and students, and to lessen the work load of the present teachers.
In contrast, another member of the English department favored reducing the number of teaching fellows, and hiring more assistant professors and instructors. "There is far too much teaching done by part-time people," he said. "They provide some of the best teaching, but also some of the sloppiest."
Professors should watch closely the work of their teaching fellows, he added. "They are young and inexperienced, and it is up to the head of the course to police them."
This view conflicted sharply with that of William Alfred, associate professor of English. Once teaching fellows are chosen, Alfred declared, they should be given almost complete autonomy. This permits teachers to grade according to their knowledge of individual students, and provides an "intimate relationship" between teaching fellows and their students.
Alfred also expressed an opinion shared by all the Faculty members interviewed: the value of teaching work to the graduate student themselves.
Teaching fellowships are particularly valuable for training for a teaching profession, Alfred said. But even for those who do not plan to be teachers, "the best way of gaining knowledge yourself is to give it to others."