With $40 Million Gift, Harvard Launches Teaching Initiative

With the announcement of a $40 million gift from Rita E. and Gustave M. Hauser, Harvard said Tuesday that it will launch an Initiative on Learning and Teaching, an effort that officials describe as re-emphasizing its commitment to best teaching practices and innovative learning.

The University-wide initiative aims to better integrate technology into the classroom and to advance research on pedagogical methods.

“This remarkable gift from the Hausers will allow us to support the efforts of our enormously creative faculty and provide a framework for making excellent teaching and engagement between faculty and students the touchstone of the educational experience at Harvard,” University President Drew G. Faust said in a press release.

The establishment of this new teaching initiative comes at a time in Harvard’s history when issues surrounding education and pedagogy have gained a new currency on campus. A large number of Harvard graduates now enter the field of education, including through programs like Teach for America, and University administrators have placed an emphasis on improving the quality of teaching at Harvard.

“This gift is so vital because it allows faculty the opportunity to step back and “think of new ways to engage our students,” said Jules L. Dienstag, the dean for medical education at Harvard Medical School, in a press release.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith said that HILT will further the advancements in teaching practices that have already been made by the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, which was founded in 1975.

“This gift is a huge affirmation of Harvard’s ongoing commitment to excellent teaching,” Smith said in a press release. “Since the ’70s, the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning has been one of the world’s most highly regarded centers focused on teaching undergraduates, bringing insights from the science of learning into the classroom.”

In the past, Harvard has been criticized for faculty members’ prioritization of their own research at the expense of time in the classroom. The establishment of entities like the Bok Center and, now, HILT, has tried to combat this image and make substantive improvements in teaching.

“Visionary investments in activities like these will establish Harvard as the institution for pedagogical innovation,” Smith added.

But apart from cultivating better learning practices, this new initiative may have larger implications for the University-wide capital campaign.

Some have speculated that undergraduate House renewal or the University’s Allston campus may serve as the campaign’s focus, but Law School Professor John G. Palfrey, who advised the creation of the initiative, said that teaching and learning will function as a “centerpiece” for the upcoming capital campaign.

Faust echoed this sentiment in an interview Monday and said that the University took into consideration “what kind of issues would be of interest in a coming campaign” when planning this initiative with the Hausers.

The Hausers have made several significant donations to the University in the past, including seeding the money for the creation of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations in 1997.

Rita Hauser—who served as national co-chair for the University’s last capital campaign—said that she hopes her donation will be a “catalytic gift” that will encourage other donors to make contributions for teaching and learning development at Harvard.

“This is in line with the philosophy of our giving,” said Rita Hauser in a statement. “We are giving a sizeable gift, which is just the beginning. This is really a start-up, if you like, and we hope it will be a catalytic gift.

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at zoe.weinberg@college.harvard.edu.

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