Like most upsets of a bad old order, the "quiet revolution in undergraduate teaching" that Dean Ford predicts will issue from the new graduate fellowship program should be viewed hopefully.
The Dean has already indicated the program's advantages for graduate students, at least for those in History. It will assure students of financial support until they get their Ph.D.'s. It will shorten the time required to get a Ph.D. to five years. And it will guarantee students two years of teaching experience by the time they do get their degrees. All these advantages are built into the new program.
The program's advantages for undergraduates are not built in; they are merely potential. It is difficult to question the desirability of breaking the monotony of large lecture courses, or of stimulating greater student contact with the faculty. But, as Dean Ford has recognized, small classes do not necessarily equal good teaching.
If the graduate students regard their teaching simply as an opportunity to gain experience, the undergraduates will be little more than guinea pigs. If a professor abandons his course to untrained section men, the student will suffer much more than he would if he fell asleep in Lowell Lecture Hall. As Professor Perkins observed, "Too much delegation of responsibility to inexperienced people could bring bad results."
Bad results can be avoided if the professors are sensitive to student reactions to the new system. If the faculty's present concern for undergraduate instruction persists, the fellowship program may make sections one of the most valuable parts of Harvard education.
The program may also lead, purely incidentally, to an even greater revolution in undergraduate instruction. Instructors and Assistant Professors now complain that the energy and talent they devote to teaching undergraduates do nothing to advance them professionally. Under the new system, teaching ability will influence professional advancement at two important stages. The History Department will choose the 25 fellowship holders on the basis not only of scholarship, but also of recommendations which will include an estimate of teaching ability. And the Department's recommendations of Ph.D.'s for academic positions will consider candidates' performances during their teaching years. Perhaps the new program marks a first step toward active recognition of the fact that teachers should be able to teach, and that departments can encourage good teaching by giving it survival value at a level higher than that of the graduate student and the new Ph.D.
If the new program reflects renewed faculty interest in the quality of teaching on all levels, one can only hope it will flourish and expand.
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