Thursday, September 20, 2007

What Do Professors Do? Part II

Following up on my last post... in one respect I know I'm spending more time on administrative issues recently. Last semester I started serving as a faculty member on the Harvard "Ad Board" -- literally, the Administrative Board. This is the committee that handles the "application and enforcement of undergraduate academic regulations and standards of social conduct". If you're in trouble for bad grades, cheating, plagiarizing, fighting, alcohol abuse, or anything else that's mentioned in the Harvard rules, your case gets brought to the Ad Board. We also handle several more positive and pleasant administrative duties, of course, but the bulk of the actual work involves the cases of students experiencing serious academic problems or accused of violating university rules.

This is a remarkably time-intensive committee. We meet weekly, and it's not at all unusual for the meetings to last 2-3 hours. Plus there's prep time involved in reading the cases before the meeting. There are only a few faculty members on the committee at a time. Most of the committee is made up of administrators and the "resident deans" -- people who live at the Harvard dorms (or "houses" in Harvard-speak) and are responsible for the care of students.

Several of the resident deans have asked me what I did to get stuck on the committee. I generally answer that I didn't realize it was a punishment! (In fact, then-Dean of Students Dick Gross asked me to serve. As he and Harry Lewis were my senior thesis advisors as an undergraduate, I found it hard to say no. I've found this sort of thing is a problem about going back as a professor where you were an undergraduate; people are more familiar with your name and stick you on committees.)

It is indeed a very challenging committee. I've learned some important things, including all about the infrastructure for helping Harvard students with problems and how I can help lead students to this infrastructure. One perhaps obvious lesson is that most often students get into academic trouble -- in particular, with plagiarism -- because they leave assignments until the night before and then take shortcuts to get them in. I've always been quite strict with undergraduates about homework deadlines -- I think overall students need better time management skills and try to do too much -- but I admit I've softened up since being on the committee. Contrary to many students' belief, I don't want my class to spur a breakdown. But remind your students over and over -- the night before is no time to start a theory problem set (or any other assignment)!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always been quite strict with undergraduates about homework deadlines but I admit I've softened up since being on the committee.

I tend to grant students the ability to submit 24 hours late for up to 90% of the marks. This way they have an incentive to do their homework in time, but if caught in a bind, they still have a way out that is preferable to cheating.