Revealing Our Invisible Guides

Professing is not the chief occupation of our professors. In addition to lecturing in front of huddled undergraduates, they work closely with graduate students, write books, conduct research around the world and still have their own projects.

Since teaching is only one of their numerous and dynamic commitments, they bear only a part of teaching responsibilities. The rest of teaching and learning at Harvard is a confused muddle--study groups, casual conversation and diligent self-teachers form the Harvard education. Somewhere in the classroom, however, after the lecture and before the dinner tables, we find the teaching fellows, our TFs.

The administration seems to share my confusion over teaching responsibilities. As a first-year I once navely asked my introductory Greek teacher if he was a graduate student, because his name differed from the instructor in the course listing. He was, but he only answered, "I'm in the department."

This equivocation, it turns out, covered up (or perhaps revealed) a much bigger one: TFs exist in almost every course offered to us. They grade our papers and tests, lead our sections and learn our names. Their names, however, are not listed in the FAS course catalogue. This omission, to my mind, compromises both the credit owed to them and their responsibility to the course. Besides that, it leaves undergraduates in the dark about the courses we must choose to take.

I would imagine that some staffing decisions come late, and the FAS course catalogue has practical, operational limits. Maybe some TFs are so shy, noble or ashamed that they don't want their names listed. I hope many professors are not too proud to allow their inclusion, but maybe there is an "industry standard" about this sort of thing. None of these concerns rival the notions of academic honesty we live by, and in this case, take for granted.

Page 25 of Gordon Harvey's book Writing with Sources, the guide given to every Harvard undergraduate, reads as follows: "Plagiarism is passing off a source's information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to acknowledge that source--an act of lying stealing and cheating."

We find similar fraudulence in a list of courses which, while purporting to account of this institution's academic offerings, omits the larger part of their known participants and benefactors. As much as teaching is a crucial part of scholarship, TFs play a crucial part in the design of any course where they exist. Even if they do not choose the readings, they coach us in them. If they don't write the lecture, they answer for it. They are often the student's only responsive, personal contact with the course material. They are more than assistants.

In fact, our college rejects the servility in the term "teaching assistant" for the more egalitarian "teaching fellow." The course, as a product of academic effort, belongs to them too. By recording this in the catalogue we give credit and responsibility where credit and responsibility are due.