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FAS Focuses on Teaching and Learning Initiative

For the past three years, in the midst of University-wide budget cuts, the dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences had relatively limited funds to push to improve his mission of bettering teaching at Harvard.

Now, with a stronger financial outlook for FAS, Dean Michael D. Smith says he can now focus on promoting his “teaching and learning” initiative.

At last week’s Faculty Meeting, Smith identified the school’s commitment to teaching and learning as a priority of the capital campaign—an initiative by Harvard to raise possibly billions of dollars to benefit University missions. Among the organizations to most likely benefit the most from this funding is the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.

“We did a huge review of the Bok Center, and it’s done some amazing things,” Smith said in an interview late last month. “We’re trying new things—there’s more interesting research to do.”

In a new addition to the leadership at the Bok Center, which prepares instructors—especially teaching fellows—in pedagogical methods, a faculty director will work alongside executive director Terry Aladjem.

“The faculty director will play a major role in articulating the centrality of undergraduate teaching in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences,” FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal said. “Together with Bok Center colleagues, she or he will support faculty members in enriching their classes with new materials, methods and technologies, and assessing their efficacy in teaching undergraduates.”

The director will lead programs in “innovative pedagogies and assessment,” among other responsibilities of developing “good teaching,” according to Neal.

“We would love [to have] someone who is a faculty director, someone who’s gone out into the field,” Smith said.

Smith also announced that he will continue the series of panel discussions on pedagogy he initiated last year.

In 2007, the FAS Task Force on Teaching and Career Development released a guiding memo for the school to improve the quality of its faculty teaching. The 86-page document, titled “A Compact to Enhance Teaching and Learning at Harvard,” emphasizes greater prioritization of teaching and increased intra-departmental mentoring of junior faculty and graduate students by senior faculty.

“In principle, FAS expects all faculty members to do what many in fact do: devote comparable time during the academic year to teaching and research, and teach undergraduates as well as graduate students,” the report reads. “But in institutional practice cutting-edge academic research is what FAS celebrates and most consistently rewards.”

One year after the document was published, heavy endowment losses and an estimated $220 million two-year deficit prompted Smith to ask departments and centers to cut 10 to 15 percent of their operating budgets.

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at gkumar@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Oct. 13, 2011

The Oct. 13 article "FAS Focuses on Teaching and Learning Initiative" incorrectly stated that the new faculty director will replace the existing executive director. In fact, the new faculty director will work alongside the existing executive director, Terry Aladjem, who will continue in his current role.

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