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Friday, February 21, 2014

First World Problems: Pity the poor Harvard TFs

Harvard has so much money that it now has even more money. It may be that having a lot of money actually makes it harder to spend the money on anything useful because more regulation gets attached to this money, but I'm not at all sure how this works, so if you know, enlighten me. Surely though, some of this ever-expanding pot of gold can be used to improve the sad lot of Harvard's poor TFs.

First World Problems, I know. It's fine to point out that every Harvard (grad) student rests his head every night on a soft pillow embroidered with gold and sprinkled with myrrh, compared with the poor serfs at Berkeley and SUNY-Somewhere, who must chop their own firewood and huddle together in stone huts with dirt floors to stay warm, so Harvard students should never complain about anything. Ok. But until Harvard starts sub-donating its donations to these needy places, it's going to use its money for its own purposes, and I see nothing wrong with trying to improve its judgment in selecting these purposes. What I don't see though is how capping sections at 12 students per is a solution to any problem. What's magical about 12 students? In a particularly shallow course, 12 can be a problem b/c few people do the reading. (Even at places with gold-embroidered myrrh pillows!) Above 18, they tend not to fit in a single room, so that's no good. But while smaller may be generally better, it seems odd for the GSC to seize on this magical number of 12 for its main goal.

The real problem is not the difference between 12 and, say, 15 students in a section, but the weird precariousness of teaching assignments. Out of some deeply-ingrained habit, Harvard does not have course pre-registration, which means that no one knows how many students will register for any given course until two weeks into the semester. This in turn means that no one knows how many TFs the course will require until the same time. So grad students are left uncertain about what they're teaching until pretty much the day they have to show up to teach it, if not later. There is some consistency in course enrollments over the years of course, but less than you'd expect, and a fluctuation of even 25 students is all it takes to either fire someone who'd been counting on that course or necessitate an extra (unprepared) TF at the last minute. This is a much bigger problem than having a 13th student wander in.

But, good news: this problem is easily solved! By pre-registration! Earth to GSC! Every other school does it. It benefits not only the grad students who have to plan their entire semester's housing and living around the current tenuous non-guarantee of teaching income, but also the faculty who presumably would also like to know whether they will be lecturing to 20 or 200 students next term. Since I don't know that pre-registration would even require dipping into the heaving Harvard money pot to hand out some dregs to grad students, if there are dregs still left to allocate after it's implemented, Harvard might consider addressing the problem of Cambridge's extremely high rent by either giving grad students more moneyz to pay it, or subsidizing more neighborhood buildings for grad student housing.

Or, you know, they could throw all the money into building this totally redundant new "student center" which, according to the survey I was sent, may feature such amenities as video games and chiropractors. I frankly can't understand how university students have survived so long without the essential educational services of chiropractors. In what was surely an accidental oversight soon to be corrected, however, no "nap space" was proposed.

6 comments:

HUM III: A Restrospective said...

Oprah recommended this thing where you put you head in a box and then the floor falls out from under you and you spinal cord straightens under your own weight. They offer it at HMS for thousands a dollars a pop. I am hoping this will be added to said student center. Also, the today's capcha was an std followed by a name, which leads me to believe this blog has jumped into PG-13 territory despite all its philosophically inclined commentary.

Miss Self-Important said...

Oh, is that what they were doing with those public hangings all those centuries? Straightening spines? How did the historians miss that?

This blog has always been edgy and subversive...for those who could read between the lines.

Tae-Yeoun Keum said...

I, too, was puzzled by the 12-campaign even though I had filled out that teaching survey with particular venom on a night of serious procrastination (like this night, when I remembered the existence of excellent blogs like yours). I talked to someone in the know about it and it seems it's a largely strategic move, aimed not so much at improving the Harvard college student experience (even though they have to package it as such) but at proposing something so easy to understand, regardless of whether the reasons for it are wrong, that the Higher Powers cannot dismiss it as the incoherent roar of disgruntled children who can't agree on what they want. Ushering in an age of reasoned dialogue on bigger more systemic issues between the guardians of the wealth and their slaves. Also, 12-person sections could temporarily mean more teaching jobs for 8th years and grad students from departments like Inner Asian and Altaic Studies (this is a real department).

Miss Self-Important said...

Ok, I buy the last part. I might need a teaching job in my 8th year. But it still seems like the unpredictable enrollment situation will cancel out the goods that extra sections will bring me as an 8th Year Altaist.

The other part I don't quite understand - the GSC wants to open a "dialogue" by making demands? Isn't it easier to achieve the former w/o the latter? Or is the idea like how children bargain: Can I have cake? No. Can I have a little bit of cake? No. How about just this one bite of cake? Ok, but only one bite. Now that I've had ONE bite, why not two? Why not a slice? Why not the ENTIRE CAKE?

Tae-Yeoun Keum said...

No, I think that's exactly what they're going for.

Miss Self-Important said...

So when we get the entire cake, how will we divide it up? Direct democracy? Rotation of offices? With these 12-student caps on sections, we'll each have more free time to dedicate to ruling our new empire, won't we? I mean, to dedicate to research. Important research. About government. B/c that's what we research.