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Summer School Looks Off Campus for Professors

Administrators, some students praise outside teachers

By Frances G. Tilney, Crimson Staff Writer

While the University tries to sell its summer school program as the complete Harvard experience, some summer school students have been disappointed this year by the dearth of "real" Harvard professors teaching their classes.

"Neither of my professors are from Harvard," says one summer school student taking a cell biology class and Calculus. "One is from SUNY and one from some other place. I thought they would be from Harvard, but they're not."

Though the Summer School elicits teaching assistance from each College department in the fall, few Harvard professors are available to instruct for the summer.

"Many use the time for research or vacation, so they are not free to teach," says Dean of Students in the Summer School Christopher Queen. "We can't twist anyone's arm if they aren't available."

But the University still has to provide a range of courses to summer school students, including Harvard undergraduates, meaning the summer school administration has to seek outside assistance.

"We have to serve regular Harvard students, so we offer the range of courses that are offered in arts and sciences during the year," Queen says.

"But, we have holes in the lineup, as it were."

Because of the shortage, the summer school turns to "distinguished faculty from other institutions outside of Harvard," with many of the professors coming from local schools such as Tufts University, Boston College and Brandeis University.

According to Queen, the selected professors "are highly respected for their scholarship and their teaching."

And many summer school students agree, saying they are pleased with the outside professors.

"I love my class so much," says California native Kristen C. Weiss. "It's a political philosophy class taught by a professor from Brown, and it really doesn't matter that he's not from Harvard, because he's so good."

Queen says the program has a strong history and has received few complaints.

"We have offered summer school since 1871 and a great majority of students are delighted with the courses," Queen says. "It's extremely rare for me to receive a call from a student saying he was disappointed in a professor or a course."

And he adds that summer school students have complete control over whose classes they take.

"We strongly urge SSP students to actively shop classes," Queen says. "Go up to the instructor and make an informed decision. None of them were forced to take that class and nobody was saying 'you have to take this or that,' because there are no requirements."

Reason to Stay

While many Harvard faculty members have other pursuits during the summer, some do decide to stay to teach eager high school and college students.

Queen considers the more diverse student population--which often includes adults--who have enthusiasm about a course subject as part of the motivation for a Harvard professor to remain on campus during the summer months.

"You might have a CEO of a company in an international business class or someone who actually lives in Greece or Turkey in the classical archaeology class," Queen says. "Professors enjoy a richness of discussion with students from all walks of life and professions."

James E. Davis, who is a senior lecturer on chemistry and chemical biology and on molecular and cellular biology, says he stays because he enjoys teaching, no matter who the students are.

"My duties are teaching," Davis says. "It's not something that I have to do, it's something that I like to do."

"I do not do the research grant bit," he adds.

And Davis says he often gets more dedicated students during the summer, with grades higher on average than during the academic year.

"If you don't do anything else and you put all your energy into this course without other distractions such as football games, parties and concerts, it's total immersion--highly intensive," Davis says.

Orchard Professor of Landscape History John R. Stilgoe says teaching summer school has even been a benefit to his own career.

"One reason I have tenure is because I taught summer school and I had a chance to write every day," says Stilgoe, who has taught classes on visual studies at Harvard Summer School for 27 years.

But he does not ignore the benefits to high school students who flock to Harvard over the summer.

"Summer school is the first real education for many of these people," Stilgoe says.

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