Let me put on my Harvard College alumnus cap:
Harvard Economics Professor David Laibson writes in the Harvard Crimson:
Summers and the Students: Summers understood the embarrassing fact that Harvard is great because we admit great students, not because we give them a great faculty-led education. Of course, the students know this too, explaining why Harvard students rate their educational experience less positively than the students at almost all of our peer institutions. Summers led the charge to revamp the curriculum... improve the quality of undergraduate life... hold faculty accountable for their teaching. Some faculty faulted him for playing too central a role in the curricular review, and some faculty resented being told (fairly or unfairly) that they weren't living up to Summers's standards. Whatever the case, most students felt that Summers had their interests at heart and was working intensely to make Harvard better for them...
Back when I was an undergraduate the Harvard senior faculty teaching load in the humanities and social sciences seemed to be four courses a year, half graduate and half undergraduate--three lecture courses meeting three hours a week and one seminar meeting two hours a week, for (given Harvard's short semesters) an effective 120 or so teaching hours in the classroom a year. Even then we used to joke about the Harvard philosophy of education: herd the undergraduates onto the campus and let them educate and entertain each other, while the senior faculty occasionally pass through like juggling-bears-riding-bicycles.
It wasn't really true then: As an undergraduate I learned huge amounts from senior faculty members like Michael Walzer, David Landes, Stanley Hoffman, Marty Feldstein, Zvi Griliches, Wallace McCaffery, Simon Schama. But I learned much more from junior faculty, lecturers, and TAs like Shannon Stimson, Mark Watson, Andy Abel, Olivier Blanchard, Jeff Weintraub, and Bill Lazonick; and from stray MIT junior faculty hanging out in Harvard Square like Paul Krugman and Larry Summers.
But what was (largely) a joke to us a generation ago does appear to be true now.
The two Harvard professors who proposed votes of "no confidence" in Larry Summers are Judith Ryan of the German Department and J. Lorand Matory of Anthropology and AAAS. This year, the Harvard course catalog lists Judith Ryan as teaching one graduate seminar--22 teaching hours in the classroom:
German 290. Experience and Remembrance in W. G. Sebald: Seminar
: Catalog Number: 7036 | Judith Ryan Half course (spring term). M., 2-4. EXAM GROUP: 7, 8. Close study of Sebald's narrative and poetic works, as well as a selection of his scholarly essays, against the backdrop of recent literary theory. Note: Expected to be omitted in 2006-2007. Readings in German, discussions in English.
This year, the Harvard course catalog lists J. Lorand Matory as teaching one seminar and one lecture course, both in the spring--55 teaching hours in the classroom:
African and African American Studies 140z. The Other African Americans: Catalog Number: 0300. J. Lorand Matory. Half course (spring term). W., 4-6. EXAM GROUP: 9. We survey the history and contemporary experiences of self-identified "mixed-race" groups, as well as voluntary immigrant groups from Africa and the Caribbean, such as Cape Verdeans, Nigerians, Jamaicans, Afro-Puerto Ricans, and Haitains in the US. Students are introduced to arguments central to the social scientific study of modern societies generally, such as the invention of ethnicity, and negotiation of identity, and the social constructedness of race.
Anthropology 1600 (formerly Anthropology 110). Introduction to Social Anthropology: Catalog Number: 8296. Theodore C. Bestor (fall term) and J. Lorand Matory (spring term). Half course (fall term; repeated spring term). Fall: M., W., (F.), at 1; Spring: Tu., Th., at 11. EXAM GROUP: Fall: 6; Spring: 13. Introductory exploration of anthropological approaches to society, culture, language, and history. Lectures, readings, and ethnographic films focus on global social and cultural diversity, and the intellectualand ethical challenges of anthropological research on human difference, experience, and complexity, across a wide range of theoretical perspectives and social/cultural topics, including kinship, social and political hierarchy, exchange, gender, language, ideology, religion, and global political economic systems. Note: Open to freshmen.
From this admittedly unrepresentative and far-too-small sample, it looks like the withdrawal of the Harvard senior faculty from teaching--especially teaching undergraduates--is nearly total.
So I have a question for the members of the Harvard Corporation: Patricia King, James Houghton, Nannerl Keohane, Robert Reischauer, James Rotheberg, and Robert Rubin: Should Harvard's next president be someone who will continue to acquiesce in this withdrawal of the senior faculty from the teaching classroom (as Neil Rudenstine and Derek Bok did)? If not, how can he or she change the faculty culture so that the senior faculty once again view themselves as teachers? If yes--if the current senior faculty are abandoned as a lost cause as far as undergraduate education is concerned--then how can he or she raise the quality of Harvard undergraduate education to the level of its peer institutions like Brown, Yale, and Princeton?