Campaigning with Limits

The Harvard Teaching Campaign has been vocal, but has struggled to win over admins

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Doherty argues that larger sections have not only undermined undergraduate instruction but also made it harder for graduate students to learn how to teach, a skill which the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences policy on teaching appointments—the comprehensive set of policies on teaching fellows—calls “an integral part of professional training.”

Larger sections also increase the burden of administrative tasks such as sending emails, hosting office hours, and grading work, says Cristina V. Groeger, a History Department Ph.D. candidate.

“[Teaching fellows] cannot devote the same amount of personal attention to each student” as they could if they taught smaller sections, Groeger writes in an email.

SIGNATURES AND ENDORSEMENTS

In light of their grievances, Campaign members have urged members of the Harvard community—from undergraduates to faculty members and alumni—to sign a petition calling for smaller sections. In the past semester, the petition has amassed over 1,000 signatures, according to Groeger.

The group has received support for their mission from a number of faculty members, including collective endorsements from the Philosophy and Sociology departments. In a statement, Philosophy faculty members wrote that graduate programs serve to train the “next generation” of professors and called for “better working conditions” for teaching fellows.

In addition, more than 90 percent of the History Department signed a letter of support to various administrators, including Harris and FAS Dean Michael D. Smith.

Yet the group has yet to reach out to administrators, as they hope to build a “critical mass” of support from a more diverse range of departments, according to Michael A. Thornton, a teaching fellow for the Program in General Education and the History and East Asian Languages and Civilizations departments.

He and others have stated that the Campaign does not have any official leadership, and, as a result, that they could not speak about the group’s plans for future dialogue with administrators.

CONCERNS FROM THE TOP

Although they have yet to be approached by Campaign members, administrators say that they have concerns about both the rationale of the group’s demands and the feasibility of reducing section sizes.

One critique is that a section cap would be an inappropriate solution to issues that do not have a one-size-fits-all answer.

“I can imagine that for some courses, a very, very small section size, like maybe fewer than ten, would be appropriate. In other cases, it could be many more,” University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 says. “We should think about section size as being dictated by the needs of the specific course.”

"Reducing the size of every section...risks creating more sections than we have qualified teachers," Dean of FAS Michael D. Smith said.

In a letter to the editor published in The Crimson in March, Sociology professor Christopher Winship called the Campaign’s demand “off the mark,” arguing that sections without required attendance can be effective even with more students. Winship is a key figure within the FAS governance structure as vice chair of the committee that sets agendas for monthly Faculty meetings.

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