Teaching Reforms

LAST YEAR when students and faculty were debating the merits of the Core Curriculum, some argued that the Core proposal failed to deal with one of the central problems of undergraduate education: the dearth of close associations among students and full-time faculty members. This fall the Committee on Undergraduate Education has wisely begun to address this problem and to consider several reforms that would increase contact among professors and undergraduates.

One of the possible reforms involves setting new limits on the number of graduate students permitted to teach undergraduate tutorials. Current Faculty legislation imposes such limits, but this legislation--which requires that no more than 30 per cent of tutorials be taught be teaching fellows and no less than 30 per cent be taught by full-time faculty--has been ignored and unenforced since the date of its passage. A CUE study illustrates how flagrantly the departments are violating the Faculty legislation: during the 1976-77 academic year, teaching fellows taught over 95 per cent of the sophmore tutorials in Economics, English, Government, History and Psychology and Social Relations Departments. Although the CUE study indicates that a greater number of professors teach junior and senior tutorials, only the Psychology and Social Relations Department spotlighted by the study had more professors than teaching fellows in charge of all upperclass tutorials.

To be sure, the CUE needs to devise new, more realistic limits on the number of graduate students teaching tutorials. More importantly, however, the Faculty should take measures to insure that departments take such limits seriously.

Another proposal would extend to other departments innovations implemented this year in the Government Department, which now allows juniors the option to enroll for one semester in a faculty-taught seminar instead of a junior tutorial. The seminars would probably contain more students than existing tutorials, but by offering the seminars the University would permit students to decide whether they wished to sacrifice the intimacy of a small group for a chance to study under someone who has more experience in the field.

Two other proposals also promise to help improve the quality of education at Harvard. One involves encouraging professors to regularly attend--on a rotating basis--sections in courses that they teach. The other proposal advocates a reclassification on the rank of professors as a postdoctoral position with emphasis on teaching. Because there are so many qualified post-doctoral academics on the market, the University could hire such instrutors to teach many of the undergraduate tutorials currently taught by graduate students. Instuctors could teach specific tutorials concerning subjects on which they have specialized, avoiding the all-too-prevalent misfortune of having graduate students teach subjects with which they are unfamiliar.

THE PROPOSALS outlined by Bowersock are indeed worthy of careful consideration by CUE and the Faculty. If Harvard wants to maintain its reputation as an institution of learning, it must not neglect the foundation of the University-- the College. Creating greater interaction among professors and students will unquestionably improve the undergraduate program. The Faculty should not delay in passing and enforcing the several reform proposals now being refined by Bowersock and the CUE.