Report: Faculty Pay Should Be Linked to Teaching

Report calls for teaching to have 'major and equal weight' with research

Teaching may be given “major and equal weight” with research in professors’ annual salary calculations if the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) follows the recommendations of a new report on teaching released to professors today.

In a report that gives voice to frustration among professors that Harvard marginalizes or ignores good teaching, the Task Force on Teaching and Career Development proposed a swathe of concrete measures to change Harvard’s teaching culture.

The recommendations include more documentation of teaching ability during hiring and promotions, more funding from the FAS administration for pedagogical experimentation, increased scheduling flexibility to allow for different class formats, and a push for professors to visit each other’s courses and share teaching materials.

Implementation of some of the proposals could start as early as this academic year if they are received favorably by the Faculty and administration, said Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Theda Skocpol, the task force’s chair.

While Harvard’s teaching quality has often drawn fire from Harvard students, the task force’s work marks an unprecedented level of internal criticism from a group of senior professors.

The report paints a sobering picture of Harvard’s current teaching culture, in which effective classroom guidance is considered a matter of “individual talent, choice, or valor,” not something FAS sufficiently acknowledges or rewards.

“There are a lot of people who care intensely about teaching, but a lot of those same people think the institution doesn’t care,” Skocpol said in an interview yesterday.

Proven skill in teaching is ignored or even stigmatized during FAS performance reviews, according to the report.

“Every teaching award earns a warning of how I should not wander off research,” the report quotes an anonymous Ph.D. candidate as saying.

Senior professors quoted in the report voiced the same concerns, worrying that a focus on teaching may prove detrimental to their younger colleagues’ careers.

“There are still pockets of the University where winning the Levenson award for teaching as a junior faculty member is considered the kiss of death with respect to promotion,” the report quotes one anonymous senior professor as saying.

The result, according to the report, is that Harvard’s academic offerings can alienate students instead of engaging them.

“Concluding in turn that many faculty are not really interested in them, too many of our undergraduates take a passive stance toward the classroom and turn their passions toward extracurricular pursuits,” the report reads.

In proposing solutions to these problems, the report steers clear of mandating specific class structures or pedagogical approaches.

“It would be a fantasy to suggest that all Harvard students are going to take all small classes,” Skocpol said.

The report also rejects the idea that Harvard teaching could be improved by creating a “dual tenure-track system” in which some faculty are appointed for research achievements and others for classroom ability.

Instead, the report suggests that Harvard needs to start evaluating all professors’ teaching skills with the same level of scrutiny that is given to scholarly work.

“Research is evaluated in standardized ways across universities...If we’re going to take teaching seriously, we have to have more visible and consistent ways of presenting some evidence about what counts for good teaching,” Skocpol said.

The task force was “unequivocal” in recommending that all professors who teach classes over a certain size be required to submit themselves for CUE evaluation, she said.

That measure would be one of the few proposals requiring an official vote of the Faculty, according to Skocpol, although she said discussion of the report’s broader findings would most likely be on the docket for one of the Faculty meetings this spring.

—Staff writer Lois E. Beckett can be reached at lbeckett@fas.harvard.edu.