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Teaching Campaign Delivers Section Cap Petition to Mass. Hall

Roughly 75 supporters of a petition calling for the College to cap undergraduate section sizes at 12 students each gathered Tuesday to conclude a months-long signature drive, with two supporters ultimately delivering the petition to Massachusetts Hall.

The Harvard Teaching Campaign, which organized the petition, came into existence early last spring as a way to improve the experience of teaching fellows, according to one of the group’s organizers, Cristina V. Groeger ’08.

Harvard Teaching Campaign Petition
Supporters of the Harvard Teaching Campaign proceed through the Yard before submitting a petition to cap section sizes at 12 students to Massachusetts Hall.

Campaign organizers thought that the issue “would have widespread appeal to undergraduates and faculty,” Groeger said. While their experiences vary greatly, TFs have shared feelings of being overworked and other common struggles.

The group began collecting signatures for the petition in spring 2014. At the time of delivery, it had garnered 2,273 signatures, with 1,103 undergraduates, 685 graduate students, 113 faculty members, and 81 alumni as signatories.

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Before delivering the petition Tuesday, supporters gathered in the Science Center Plaza, processing past the statue of John Harvard and around to Mass. Hall, the building that houses the offices of University President Drew G. Faust and other administrators. The group of supporters consisted mostly of teaching fellows, undergraduates, and faculty members, some of whom then spoke before the petition was delivered to the front desk in Mass. Hall.

“If sections were smaller, that would be baller,” supporters chanted throughout the send off. After passing the statue of John Harvard, the group switched to a new rhyme: “Large sections cause infections.”

Several supporters also spoke to the group, pointing to the benefits that smallers section sizes would have on improving the effectiveness of TFs’ education.

Edward J. Hall, a Philosophy professor and the chair of the General Education Committee who spoke to the crowd, said after the event that problems with large sections are particularly acute in the Gen Ed program, in which courses can often become unexpectedly large.

“I know from teaching that if my students are going to be motivated, it’s partly because there’s some kind of personal investment to me or the rest of the teaching staff,” Hall said, “and there’s no way that can happen in an 800-student course if the sections are 18 to 20 people.”

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay H. Harris stood outside Mass. Hall as the group approached and joined the group to listen to the speakers. Harris had been invited by campaign organizers, according to Groeger.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Teaching Campaign in advocating for ways to improve undergraduate education,” Harris wrote in an email, “and we look forward to working with the campaign and our entire community to make our students’ experiences in sections and labs as enriching as possible.”

The campaign has received endorsements from 15 departments, committees, and programs, as well as the Graduate Student Council, Undergraduate Council, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones. The UC put the question on section size caps to a referendum last November after supporters collected the required signatures.

Moving forward, Groeger said campaign organizers hope that in the future the campaign can work with departments to get a vote supporting a section size cap from the Faculty as a whole. She also mentioned that organizers would like to hold another town hall meeting like the one convened by Harris and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana with faculty and campaign members in December 2014, where they discussed more flexibility and a centralized mechanism for assigning TFs to sections, as well as the quality of undergraduate education in the College.

—Staff writer Jill E. Steinman contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at karl.aspelund@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.

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