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Overseers' Report Hits Teaching Fellows


(Following are excerpts from a report of the Overseers Committee to visit the College criticizing the teaching fellows program at Harvard.)

Teaching fellows are graduate students in the several departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who serve as part-time teachers in Harvard College. Teaching fellows serve in many capacities, as tutors, laboratory and course assistants, and section men. For the year 1962-63, there are 715 teaching fellows (616 men and 99 women) appointed in the various fields. By comparison there are 569 voting members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (professors, associate professors, assistant professors, lecturers, and the major officers of Administration).

The base pay for a teaching fellow is now $4200 (for students paying at the full tuition rate) and $5400 (for students paying at the reduced tuition rate) for a full-time appointment. However, all teaching fellows are part-time teachers, since they are also part-time graduate students. Pay for each teaching fellow is calculated as a fraction of $4200 or $5400, usually in terms of fifth or quarters. The average teaching fellow in the humanities or social sciences works two-fifths to three-fifths time; in the natural sciences he works one-quarter to one-half time. To give an idea, one-fifth load is one section in a general education course, or (in certain departments) 12 sophomore tutees.

It was clear to the Committee that a great bulk of the teaching in Harvard Harvard College is done by graduate student teaching fellows, and that the quality of appointment to this rank, and the quality of work done by the young teachers, are matters of great concern to the College and merited scrutiny by the committee.

The conclusions reached by our committee after a day of discussion were as follows:

* The teaching fellow program is of great importance to Harvard College (for instruction) and to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (for training of graduate students and as a program of financial aid). It is clear to us that much enthusiastic, fresh teaching of undergraduates develops out of the teaching fellow program, but also that there is a considerable amount of uninspired, inexperienced, and weak teaching. We had to note that whereas the department heads and senior Faculty were generally satisfied with the quality of teaching fellow appointments, the undergraduates we talked to were by no means as unanimous. For the sake of a high quality of instruction in the College it is important that serious attention be paid to the qualifications of men and women appointed as teaching fellows, and that this program should not be thought of, in any department, as mainly a program of financial aid for graduate students who cannot be supported otherwise. The committee members were not satisfied that the Faculty taken as a whole chooses its Teaching fellows as carefully as it should, considering the quality of instruction Harvard tries to offer, and the quality of its undergraduate students.

* The strength of the work of teaching fellows appears to us to vary considerably from department to department and to depend, in great degree, on the administrative skill and firmness of the department chairman. We were especially impressed by the reports of the departments of history, English, economics, and chemistry. The committee felt that in Romance Languages the instruction by teaching fellows is weaker than, it should be. The program in physics also seems shaky.

* The committee observed that it is difficult to find what methods or standards are used to judge the work of teaching fellows. Evidently no teaching fellows are ever discharged for poor work, and this seems strange to us considering the number of inexperienced teachers employed under this title. The fact reinforces our feeling that teaching fellowships are often regarded mainly as a financial aid resource for the Graduate School.

The committee made the following recommendations:

* It felt that a senior Faculty person should be appointed, possibly with the title of assistant dean of teaching fellows, and that he should have supervision over all aspects of the teaching fellowship program. Given the pressure on senior Faculty members to teach, to conduct research, and to do outside work, it is no wonder that teaching fellows are often neglected.

* As has been said, the teaching fellowship program is important to the College (for instruction) and to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (for training of graduate students and as a program of financial aid). Both elements of the University have great interest in the program, but they look to somewhat different objectives in their relationship with it. It is for this reason that the committee recommends that the assistant dean of teaching fellows report to the dean of the Faculty, who has responsibility for all aspects of the program, rather than to the dean of the College or to the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

* The following responsibilities should be included in the portfolio of the assistant dean of teaching fellows:

He should formulate standards for the selection, training, evaluation, and compensation of teaching fellows.

He should assist the department chairmen and senior Faculty members in making the standards fully effective in the departments themselves. Obviously the teaching fellows must be under the jurisdiction of the chairmen of the departments to which they are assigned.

He should keep the dean of the Faculty generally informed concerning the administration of the standards in the departments.

* Harvard should pay its teaching fellows more money, as a way of attracting stronger people into this particular program and stronger people into college teaching generally. As one member commented: "With its low pay scale is Harvard attracting virile, vital men into teaching, or anemic, intellectual celibates? To be a good teacher one should be a balanced and healthy man as well as a bright student." It was noted that New Trier High School pays its starting teachers at a higher base rate ($5,600) than Harvard College. Thus Harvard is not competitive now with the best public high schools. Some members felt that equality of pay for all teaching fellows, regardess of field or demand or performance or financial need of the individual, is a mistake; in science fields we should pay more to stay competitive; the really able teaching fellow should get extra pay.

* One of the serious problems affecting the quality of teaching fellow appointments is the existence of a number of government and private fellowship grants that forbid or limit greatly teaching by the recipient. It is important for Harvard and its governing Boards to exert themselves to change the terms of such fellowship grants. This effect has been especially serious in the sciences.

* We noted that tutorial work is the principal assignment of many teaching fellows and that other colleges often do not know how to evaluate tutorial in hiring our Ph.D. graduates as Instructors. The Faculty should help to shape the work and reference of the young scohlar so that he gets full reward from a good teaching effort.

* The departments should pay close attention to the teaching loads of the teaching fellows. It appears to us that in some departments the loads are excessive.

* It seemed to us that other university colleges are probably having the same problems with their teaching fellows, and that Harvard ought to pay attention to solutions that are being worked out elsewhere

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