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In a move to improve section instruction in the College and the lives of graduate students, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) Peter T. Ellison announced yesterday that professors will be required to hire the majority of their Teaching Fellows (TFs) as much as eight months ahead of time.
Ellison explained that the plan, which he announced at yesterday’s Faculty meeting, was necessary to increase graduate student job security, saying currently it was “prohibitively difficult” for graduate students to balance studying, research and teaching.
Improving TF quality and providing graduate students with advance notice of employment were major goals of a preregistration plan proposed by Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby last month. The plan was tabled following a contentious debate among the Faculty during their March meeting.
That proposal, which would have required students to file their study cards one semester in advance, turned the current shopping period into a liberal add-drop period. More than 1,200 students signed a petition opposing the proposal before it was abandoned last month.
At yesterday’s meeting, Kirby said he understood why students bemoaned the loss of shopping period, their “one perceived area of freedom.”
But he said the current academic program was still plagued by poor advising and instruction and proposed that consideration of reform continue “with some light and less heat” than at the previous Faculty meeting.
Ellison announced that beginning this May, professors must submit the names of Harvard graduate students they are committed to hiring as TFs for their courses during the following academic year. According to Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, Jeffrey Wolcowitz, his office will make sure professors’ plans seem “reasonable” before making the offers official.
Ellison said that these procedures represent a stronger commitment to current TF hiring policies already in existence.
“We are going to put some muscle into a policy that was already on the books,” he said.
Currently, professors are encouraged to devise projected lists of teaching fellows the semester before they are needed. They are also encouraged to offer the spots to GSAS students first.
At yesterday’s meeting, however, Ellison said that the requirement to make these commitments “irrevocable” is new. He said he and Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71 would convey the plan in its entirety to the Faculty in a letter some time this month.
But some professors said they were confused by a lack of details.
“We do not know the whole story,” said Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature Judith L. Ryan.
Ryan said that despite the fact that she had previously heard of the proposal, yesterday’s announcement came as a surprise and that she was unaware of the details of the plan.
“I am not 100 percent sure whether the names and numbers will [immediately] be accepted and ratified or whether they would be contingent upon [approval from] the Office of Undergraduate Education,” she said.
Ryan said that if left to Faculty predictions alone, it is likely that Faculty members would overestimate the number of TFs they will need.
“The concern I have is a budgetary concern. I don’t know how administration will handle [matters if] a slight over projection occurs,” she said. “There will have to be checks and balances between what optimistic professors say and what are probable enrollments.”
Wolcowitz said he recognized Ryan’s concerns as a potential problem and encouraged departments to be “somewhat conservative in the firm commitments they make.”
And despite Ellison’s plea for better treatment of graduate students, Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies Charles S. Maier ’68 said in an interview yesterday that hiring TFs so far in advance seemed unfair to those graduate students who are not ready to commit to teaching a semester in advance.
“[Graduate students] should have some flexibility in the system too,” he said.
But to some undergraduate student leaders who attended the meeting yesterday, the proposal seemed a legitimate idea —one administrators should have considered sooner.
“Forcing the Faculty to plan is a much better idea than preregistration,” said President of the Undergraduate Council Rohit Chopra. “That should have been the first proposal.”
—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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