In his 1974 Letter to the Faculty on Undergraduate Education, Dean Rosovsky observed a "significant growth in recent years of an attitude that undergraduate teaching is less important and desirable that other time commitments."
In 1975, Rosovsky commissioned a Task Force on Pedagogical Improvement to recommend ways to reverse this trend, and this week, after two years of committee meetings and consultations with educational experts, the task force released its report.
So far faculty and administration reaction to the report coincides with the opinion of Paul G. Bamberg '63, task force member and director of science instruction development, who said Tuesday that the Task Force's recommendations are "not very stunning."
Only a few of the proposals are truly innovative. One is for a Center for Excellence in Teaching that would continue the work of the Harvard-Danforth Center for Teaching and Learning and act as a resource for faculty teaching, much as the Bureau of Study Counsel aids student leaning.
Another significant proposal suggests the University train graduate students in teaching skills, to improve both their performance as teaching fellows and their future employment opportunities.
But the task force concludes that such innovations will be carried through only if the Faculty is somehow motivated to invest more of their time in teaching.
The argument involved is basically an economic one: faculty members must balance the relatively intangible rewards of teaching against the tangible rewards of their other scholarly pursuits.
The report warns that the Faculty "must guard against possible exploitation of enthusiastic members of the Faculty who may spend so much time on the improvement of their teaching, particularly in the crucial years of a junior appointment, that the substantive evidence of their research which will establish their reputation in the field outside of Harvard is not forthcoming."
And, it adds, "Altruism has its financial limits."
In order to provide more concrete "incentives" for teaching, the Task Force lists as its first proposal that evaluations of teaching ability enter more forcefully into considerations of appointment and tenure--a suggestion that would be difficult to implement within departments.
And even if teaching evaluations have impact, the Task Force leaves loopholes so that "occasional exceptions may be made in the case of a person who is clearly superior to all other candidates but who is a poor teacher." The Task Force assumes that in such cases the scholar's knowledge would "somehow" be communicated to students in ways other than through actual teaching.
If the Faculty approves proposed incentives, the question of whether, they can compete with the more conventional incentives to which the Harvard Faculty is accustomed--including consulting positions in Washington, lucrative publishing contracts, and personal satisfaction from any professional honors for research will remain.
Wilga M. Rivers, Task Force chairman and professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, said this week that the Task Force approached the teaching question with "subtlety," terming its recommendation as open ended "Resolutions to the Faculty" instead of as direct proposals for legislation.
One administrator said yesterday that, while some faculty members may be enthusiastic, many will ignore the report entirely.
And the Faculty as a whole, the administrator said, "won't pay anywhere near as much attention to the report as it will to the report of the core curriculum task force."