FAS to Increase Section Size In Order To Accommodate Budget Saving Measures

The average number of students per section will increase next year, as the Faculty of Arts and Science aims to save $2 million by cutting eight to 10 percent of the college’s section leaders for next year, according to Assistant Dean of the College Logan S. McCarty ’96.

The savings are part of the budget cuts announced Monday by Dean of the Faculty Michael D. Smith designed to close the Faculty of Arts and Science’s projected $220 million budget deficit.

In cutting the number of section leaders, administrators are instituting a more rigorous application of a long-standing target of 18 students per section.

“Right now there are many instances of courses that have sections that are on average smaller than our target,” said McCarty, who is also a chemistry and chemical biology lecturer.

Including tutorials and smaller language and lab classes, sections currently average 13 students, according to McCarty, who said that some classes will be able to retain their small sections,

But given the financial climate, college officials said next year they will be more stringent about meeting the general target. In meeting this threshold, McCarty said they hope to be able to cut the total number of sections by 10 percent. In the ’08-’09 academic year, the college had roughly 4,500 sections.

With the average section increasing in size, there will be fewer sections overall, which will translate into fewer teaching positions.

Many graduate students’ primary source of income is their salary from leading sections, McCarty said. Graduate students earn roughly $5,000 per course they teach. Many graduate students teach two courses a semester, earning them about $20,000 per year.

In making the budget cuts, “we went in with two priorities,” McCarty said. “One was to preserve the quality of undergraduate instruction, and the other was to ensure that graduate students who rely on teaching as a means of support had that means of support.”

McCarty said that the administration will avoid reducing graduate students’ positions by limiting offers to non-Harvard graduate students, known as “teaching assistants,” rather than “teaching fellows.”

“We have not changed our commitment to having enough teaching for graduate students who need to support themselves, so this is having a larger impact on section leaders who are not graduate students in GSAS,” McCarty said.

This past year, undergraduates were taught by 380 TAs and 1340 TFs.

But section leaders will not hear about job availability until the summer, and some will not know whether they are teaching until the end of shopping period.

Departments hire most section leaders in July and August, based on estimations of class enrollments determined cooperatively by the University and individual departments, allowing section leaders time to prepare for the courses and communicate with course professors.

“Without something called pre-registration, we don’t know how many people will be taking classes until after shopping period,” said Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds. “It’s a pretty inefficient system.”

In the past, administrators did not enforce the section enrollment target. As a result, departments hired more section leaders, rather than redistributing them to classes where enrollment was higher.

But McCarty said he hopes with additional oversight from University Hall, departments will reallocate section leaders more efficiently.

“I don’t think that many students will notice the change in section size,” McCarty said, who said he foresaw only a small increase in the average enrollment. “It is really about bringing our section sizes in line with our policy goals.”

For those courses which have already hired their TFs for next semester—like Social Analysis 10: “Principles of Economics,” which has already hired 33 section leaders, according to Assistant Professor of Economics Silvia Ardagna—grad students who have been promised jobs will be employed next fall, either in the class they were hired for or for an equivalent course.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at