To the Editors of the Crimson:
After reading that tuition, room and board at Harvard would top $10,000 next year, I was rather relieved that I will be graduating this year and escaping just in time. But since I have paid close to this amount for some time now, I feel justified in wondering publicly just what we are paying such a large sum for.
For $10,000 a year one should expect the very best academic experience, and no less than that. Good food, location, and fascinatingly diverse classmates are great, but extra. But while the catalogue my application came in promised exciting, flexible tutorials, and faculty "anxious" (their word) to teach undergraduates, I have found this not to be the case here at Harvard. Of course, if lecturing to a room with a hundred or more students in it constitues "teaching," then I suppose all is well. But the faculty then sends us their graduate students to really do the work, to "teach" us in section and grade our papers and exams. These graduate students are frequently not interested in teaching, doing it only for the money or for their resumes. But an even more prevalent complaint is that they are quite often incompetent. Either they have no experience in the course's area, or no ability to teach or grade, or they have not done the reading for the course. My main complaint is that $10,000 a year is far too much to pay for 24- or 25-years-olds to be teaching us and grading our work (something they usually have no idea how to do), but since undergraduates are stuck with this ridiculous system the least we can expect if for faculty to spare enough time to ensure that their teaching fellows are competent. For the amount of money we are paying, we should not have to be used as guinea pigs for graduate students to learn to teach.
The indifference of the Faculty toward undergraduates is also evident in the dearth of small courses (seminars, etc.) offered, especially in such departments as History, Government, Economics, and English. Perhaps a seminar takes more time than a lecture course, and therefore the faculty would rather devote seminar time to graduate students, but for $10,000 a year undergraduates should get the chance for more and closer contact with faculty in the classroom. A few departments have made efforts to increase the number of seminars, but there is a long way to go.
I write to protest the hike in tuition, room and board for next year. For four years I have seen this increase routinely announced, with no reply from those who must pay it. Perhaps this is because my fellow undergraduates are more interested in what Harvard (or its name) will do for them after they leave than when they are here. As for me, I was looking for the very best academic experience I could find, and instead I discovered that the prestige of Harvard rests on research and teaching of graduate students, while the College's only purpose is as a source of alumni contributions once we start to get misty-eyed and sentimental. For $10,000 a year, I think undergraduates were promised a great deal, but offered little by a faculty and administration largely indifferent toward the education of undergraduates. --Mark A. Spits '81