Teaching

From Our Readers

To the Editors of The Crimson:

In recent years President Derek C. Bok has criticized the educational establishment at Harvard for not encouraging students to pursue academic careers or positions in public service. Of course one reason why undergraduates choose professions in business, medicine and law over graduate study in the arts and sciences is because they desire the respect that a professional degree commands these days.

Moreover, a professional career provides economic security. It immediately promises students a way to pay off their educational debts, a pressing obligation that few officials or instructors care to recognize, much less sympathize with.

But an equally important explanation for why diligent Harvard undergraduates choose the professions is that the faculty rarely urges them to consider graduate study. In fact, undergraduates work closely with faculty only infrequently. They are instead subjected to "discussions" led mostly by graduate students, who also supply amost all written evaluation of that most important undergraduate endeavor, the critical paper.

These graduate students are often inexperienced and frequently so busy that they read weekly assignments hastily, sometimes just hours before their classes. And when undergraduates must constantly adapt their thinking and writing to suit the moods of graduate students, as well as their varying "styles," the younger students can hardly become enthusiastic about such a life themselves.

I hope, therefore, that the History Department's decision to begin a program of faculty advising for sophomores--reported in a recent issue of The Crimson--will elicit broad and active participation from professors. A department's policy is dismaying when it assigns to seniors who write honors theses in British history a graduate student advisor who specializes in French history, and when it equates one grade on that thesis from another faceless graduate student with that of a distinguished senior faculty member. Under such a procedure, no one knows how many good young men and women are deterred from entering teaching or public service jobs where principles are supposed to count.

Serious students will understand how imposing graduate students on undergraduates may be convenient for professors busy with research or unconcerned with students in general, but they are not fooled about meaningful instruction or genuine responsibility. They may surely agree, as Dean Steven E. Ozment rightly fears, that it is time to "think this thing through." Geoffrey C. Cook '85

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