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Faculty Meetings Matter

Professors’ low attendance at meeting to discuss pedagogy is disconcerting

Faculty members are eager to ensure students are required to take their classes but show considerably less interest in encouraging quality teaching. Or at least that’s the message being sent by professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), who turned out in droves to make sure their department’s classes had a place in the new general education system, but who last week failed to even show up to talk about a much heralded report on pedagogy. Such apathy from professors is appalling.

The topic of discussion at last week’s meeting was the recently-released Compact on Teaching and Learning at Harvard. The report acknowledged Harvard’s vast pedagogical shortcomings bluntly, writing that with regard to teaching at Harvard “the gap between precept and practice may be especially worrisome.” Framed as a compact between students and teachers, the report offered 18 concrete recommendations. These included adjusting compensation for teaching quality, increasing the importance of teaching in decisions regarding promotions, and providing feedback to professors through peer evaluation and mandatory CUE evaluations.

In short, the report called for a much-needed culture-shift that can only come about through a concerted effort of the whole faculty. That process was to begin last week with a discussion, but University Hall’s Faculty Room was half empty, with an estimated attendance of 120.

Some professors justified their absence by the fact that no binding votes were cast—but the same was true of the well-attended meetings where the general education report was discussed. Others have said that the low attendance was implicit criticism. Indeed, some professors present at the meeting criticized the compact for focusing too much on the faculty and not enough on students’ responsibility for their own learning. Yet while their concerns are legitimate—and the compact’s authors agree that student behavior must also be addressed—any disagreement professors have with the report hardly excuses their absence. Rather, it strongly suggests their apathy.

This is not the first time FAS professors have ignored the importance of pedagogy. Last May, when mandatory CUE evaluations were on the agenda, the Faculty could not vote on the proposal because it failed to reach a quorum.

We understand that professors are busy. They have research to conduct, classes to teach, students to advise, and lives beyond Harvard to lead. Nonetheless, the Faculty’s unwillingness to spend 90 minutes discussing how to improve pedagogy—an issue that is central to Harvard’s mission—is a disappointment.

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