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In a conversation hosted by the College’s newly formed Honor Council on Wednesday, panelists and audience members swapped suggestions on how best to build a culture of transparent communication between professors and students.
At the discussion, entitled “What Does It Mean to Teach? What Does it Mean to Learn?,” the four panelists—two faculty members and two student Honor Council representatives—and about 20 attendees were invited to share their academic anxieties and pedagogical concerns.
“The vast majority of faculty really do care, and the vast majority of students care. Yet I think a good portion of the time, we miss each other in unintentional ways,” said Brett Flehinger, the Honor Council’s secretary who moderated the discussion.
Panelist and associate Sociology professor Jocelyn Viterna said she strongly values her interactions with undergraduates, despite the perception that faculty are more devoted to their research than their teaching.
“Some of my best scholarly moments have happened across the hall in Sever 103,” she said. “There’s this real sort of link that the students provide faculty about the world outside the Ivory Tower that is really critical.”
Viterna emphasized that students should feel welcome to attend office hours and ask to work as research assistants for classes they feel passionately about.
But panelist Meg G. Panetta ’17—a member of the student-faculty Honor Council, which hears cheating cases under the College’s new honor code—said she was insecure about wasting her professors’ time. Several members of the audience echoed that concern.
“You are one part of a very busy job, but you are a part that I love,” Viterna replied. “We as faculty are paid to work and engage with you. You should never, never feel like you’re imposing on us to do our job.”
Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris, who sat in the audience, echoed Viterna in encouraging students to attend office hours despite potentially feeling intimidated by their professors.
“The idea that we’re the preeminent authorities and that you can’t talk to us unless you have something profound to say just seems so foreign to us,” Harris said. “The idea that you’re not worthy of hearing our brilliant thoughts, which are not always so brilliant, is something that we do have to undo.”
Panelist Jack W. Jue ’18, who serves as a student academic integrity fellow on the Honor Council, said he believes that cheating results from an intense academic culture with little room for vulnerability or mistakes.
“So many of the cases we see in the Honor Council come from when students are up at four in the morning, and they don’t see any other option but to cheat,” Jue said. “They’re willing to go against their morals to create the perception that they understand what’s going on.”
Harvard’s first honor code, implemented this fall, comes three years after the Government 1310 cheating scandal, the College’s largest in recent memory that required about 70 students to temporarily withdraw from school. Along with the creation of the student-faculty Honor Council, the honor code requires undergraduates to commit to “producing academic work of integrity.”
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