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Editorials

Problematic Proctoring

By The Crimson Editorial Board

It’s not just you: This year’s freshmen really are everywhere.

Over 1,900 students were accepted into Harvard College’s Class of 2025 back in 2021, joining the roughly 350 members of the Class of 2024 who chose to defer their acceptance a year prior. All in all, the Class of 2025 sits at about 1,962 – the College’s largest classes to date, and a true nightmare if you have to get past Annenberg to get to lecture.

Yet undergraduate punctuality is hardly the biggest victim of our outsized freshman class — first-year proctors, in many ways the keepers of our youngest affiliates, are.

First-year proctors are an integral part of the freshman experience at Harvard. Proctors, who must be enrolled in a Harvard graduate program or employed by the University, oversee freshmen entryways and are supposed to facilitate the sometimes rocky transition to collegiate life. In exchange for a variety of duties ranging from advising students to organizing study breaks, proctors receive free Harvard housing and a University meal plan.

The humongous class of freshmen has seemingly changed the expectations associated with the role, overwhelming proctors. Current first-year proctors have reported feeling burnt out; five felt compelled to leave their roles mid-year. Their responsibilities have quite literally multiplied: Rather than being assigned to advise the usual six to 12 freshmen as in prior years, this year’s proctors were given assignments of up to 18 students each. This over-burdening necessitates a vastly different time commitment than what they originally signed up for.

Harvard knew that the incoming class would be substantially larger as early as this summer. So why were first-year proctors forced to pick up the slack for our institution’s poor planning?

Needless to say, the fact that first-year proctors' only form of payment is University housing and meals makes it very easy to exploit their labor, making pay increases exceedingly unlikely (who, after all, wants an extra dining-hall swipe?). Particularly in light of their somewhat-fixed payment regime, it is unfair to hold our freshmen proctors to higher standards and more substantial workloads than what they originally expected. ‘Proctoring’ is not a full-time job, nor is it supposed to be — our freshman tutors should have the breathing room to pursue their actual studies or careers unencumbered by unexpected, unpaid extra work.

We want to make one thing clear: This is a labor issue, a labor trend even. Time and time again, when push comes to shove and Harvard faces economic difficulty, it is those with the least institutional power that must pick up the slack. This systematic undervaluing of lower-paid, less “prestigious” labor is unjust and wide-ranging. It’s by no means the first time that Harvard has failed to treat its workers fairly.

The proctor debacle thus reflects more than Harvard’s slant towards austerity politics throughout Covid-19, subtly cutting corners while tacitly accepting post-pandemic understaffing as a ‘new normal.’ Either the administration believes that advising 12 students entails the same amount of work as advising 18, or it refuses to compensate for the additional work adequately; neither offers a satisfactory answer. It’s emblematic of what can only be described as institutional indifference towards proctoring itself, a baffling confidence that unpaid, regrettably not-unionized workers can simply be expected to ‘chip in’ and alleviate the direct consequences of understaffing our billionaire institution.

One might expect our College, in the face of such a sharp rise in proctor departures and reported stress levels, to be willing to introspect in the same good faith it demands from its proctors. Instead, it’s become clear that both Harvard and the First-Year Experience Office have, at times, created anxiety-inducing environments where proctors have been afraid to speak out. If internal critiques are unlikely, external scrutiny is aggressively discouraged. When our fellow Crimson news editors began working on their reporting, Nekesa C. Straker, a senior assistant dean who oversees the FYE, instructed proctors that they could “feel free to ignore” the Crimson’s inquiries about their experiences and requested to be notified of any prior exchanges.

Speaking with student journalists, Straker sternly argued, rarely goes “the way one hopes it will”.

We strenuously reject the way the Crimson was characterized by Dean Straker, and find the notion that student reporting — not sexual harassment, unworthy investments, or even lackluster proctoring — is the issue alarming. If anything, we find the improper intimidation of unpaid workers seeking adequate redress through the press symptomatic of Harvard’s excessive fixation on public perceptions over substance. All Harvard employees, including proctors, should be able to share their perspectives with media outlets without fear of institutional retaliation — especially when our institution is failing them on almost every level.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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