UC Endorses Capping Section Sizes

Meeting Adjourned
UC President Gus Mayopoulos (second from left) heads out from the UC's meeting Monday night in Sever Hall with UC Vice President Sietse Goffard (second from right) and Meghamsh Kanuparthy (left).

Undergraduate Council representatives, in collaboration with the Graduate Student Council, endorsed capping the size of “every graded section or lab group” at 12 students and helping to make the limit a College policy at the UC’s meeting Monday evening.

“Endorsing this piece of legislation is historic,” UC Education Committee Chair Dhruv P. Goyal '16 said. “It’s one of the biggest issues initiatives that the UC has ever taken on…. This is something that will revolutionize teaching here at Harvard.”

GSC President Summer A. Shafer, along with various graduate school teaching fellows from the Harvard Teaching Campaign, spoke before the Council at its general meeting Monday about the harms of large section sizes. The Campaign is a recently formed group of teaching fellows and various other instructors seeking to improve “the educational experience of undergraduates,” according to the group’s website.

Representatives from the Campaign and the GSC said at the meeting that since the economic recession, undergraduates have faced the consequences of larger section sizes.

“We believe that since budget cuts in 2008, our ability to teach the best students in the world has been compromised by unreasonably large section sizes,” Shafer said.

Since late February, graduate students have been expressing discontent with large section sizes, which they say inconvenience students and confine TFs and students to limited classroom space and feedback from instructors. Earlier this spring, the Philosophy department endorsed students' efforts to limit the section size to 12.

Goyal said that he and Shafer met earlier this year with Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris and have spoken to senior faculty members of the Committee on Undergraduate Education about their goals, but were told they needed data to show that “smaller is better.”

In its endorsement, the UC agreed to raise “awareness on campus about this issue and [gather] data through its means of campus wide communication.”

Although Goyal said he is “extremely excited” about the proposal and emphasized the influence Harvard would have in spreading a message to institutions worldwide, not every member of the UC voted in support of the measure.

Many initially voiced concerns about how the University would fund additional instructors and whether there was concrete data on what the average section size at Harvard is.

Lowell House Representative Karim Pirbay ’16, however, was the only member of the Council to vote no in the official tally. In an interview after the meeting, Pirbay said he disagreed with the idea that students are being harmed by larger sections.

“I think that more people in the classroom means more ideas in the classroom and therefore more substance to draw substance from,” Pirbay said.

In addition to passing education legislation, the UC’s meeting also included a review of the results of an internal survey.

While members rated the overall “Q guide” score of the Council at an average of 3.79 out of 5, only a quarter rated their weekly committee meetings at the highest level of productivity. 27 out of 28 representatives gave Mayopoulos and Goffard a performance rating of a 4 or 5.

The UC also approved a new round of spring grants, which allocated about $7,800 to various large-venue events.

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at noah.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

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