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From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to the many course assistants and teaching fellows who have devoted countless hours to our learning. When professors are unavailable and discussion forums look dire, we’re glad that you’re always there for us.
But you shouldn’t have to be. An investigation by our neighbors at The Crimson’s magazine last month found that often, CAs and TFs are expected to match or even exceed the level of instruction provided by objectively more experienced professors — all while receiving little pay and training on how to teach.
If Harvard is to continue with this CA- and TF-led model of undergraduate instruction, it must support CAs and TFs to the best of its capabilities, so that the students these instructors teach end up with the best education as well. CAs and TFs must receive standardized expectations and training in preparation for their teaching roles, course-specific resources and staff meetings in order to feel comfortable with the material, and, ultimately, fair wages for their invaluable services.
But a better Harvard wouldn’t rely on CAs and TFs for the brunt of its instruction.
We are disturbed by this broader trend in higher education where the educational work of tenured faculty is outsourced to non-tenure-track workers — CAs and TFs included — whom schools refuse to fairly compensate. As we’ve written before, these workers are the backbone of pretty much every undergraduate academic journey — and yet, Harvard still fails to deliver them a measly drop of its massive budget so that they can pay rent in Cambridge.
Meanwhile, many of the big name professors that Harvard credits as invested undergraduate educators are less involved in students’ intellectual development — and are sometimes equally inexperienced teachers to boot. Touted as scholars rather than instructors, these professors make groundbreaking contributions to research and human knowledge writ large, but their paths as academics may not have adequately prepared them to teach.
Harvard College considers itself a research and teaching institution, but the current hierarchy of its workers suggests that research has been prioritized to the detriment of teaching.
To reestablish teaching as a priority, Harvard should incentivize professors to teach smaller-sized classes, which cannot justify hiring a whole band of CAs and TFs to take over instruction in the absence of their professor. This might require hiring more professors to break up large lecture classes into smaller versions, until our student to faculty ratio — currently at seven-to-one — is truly representative of the in-class experience it purports to portray.
Further incentive to teach well comes in the form of labor protections and adequate wages — both major talking points of our graduate student union. It’s hard to focus on teaching while wracked with worries about one’s job security. Even for those who love to teach, there’s no incentive to pursue teaching professionally when there are no careers that pay living wages. We thus encourage undergraduate CAs and TFs to join the union that represents them, the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers, to leverage the union’s power in their own cases for better working conditions.
Given Harvard’s hefty billion-dollar budget, it can clearly afford to change the College’s teaching model, while fairly compensating everyone involved. It just needs to learn the importance of teaching again.
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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