Three More Departments Endorse Section Size Cap

Faculty from the departments of Anthropology, Linguistics, and East Asian Languages and Civilizations have endorsed a 12-student cap on section sizes, expressing support for the Harvard Teaching Campaign, a movement urging Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators to adopt the cap.

“We endorsed the goal of reducing the section size to 12 because we think that it would create a better learning environment for students in the College,” Jay H. Jasanoff ’63, chair of the Linguistics Department, wrote in an email. “It would also create a better teaching environment for teaching fellows, who are now sometimes badly stretched in homework-intense courses.”

Rowan K. Flad, interim chair of the Anthropology Department, said the department’s entire faculty expressed unequivocal support of the Teaching Campaign.

“As soon as the issue was discussed, everyone was shocked that there would even be an discussion about it,” he said. “A motion to approve was unanimously supported without much discussion.”

To date, 10 departments or committees, all in the humanities or social sciences, have endorsed the Teaching Campaign’s cause. Additionally, 57 percent of voters in last week’s Undergraduate Council presidential election supported a referendum question on capping section sizes at 12 students. That election saw a turnout of just under 50 percent of undergraduates.


Section sizes are decided by a number of factors, including funding levels set by top University administrators. As a result, these endorsements will not necessarily result immediately in smaller sections in the departments.

Still, according to Flad, the University has accommodated the Anthropology Department’s past requests to cap section sizes at 12 for certain courses conducted in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, where the presence of the museum’s artifacts created a space constraint.

In the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, the motion to endorse the section-size cap carried with overwhelming but not unanimous support, according to interim Department Chair David L. Howell.

A statement released by the department cited several problems created by oversized sections, including inhibited student participation, less effective teacher-training, and the financial insecurity of teaching fellows. The statement said that the 12-student cap should only apply to classes outside the language program, where the current section sizes are around 10 students.

“We urge other departments at Harvard to express their support for this initiative,” the statement read.

Administrators are planning to hold a town hall meeting in December to discuss section sizes. According to Campaign member Cristina V. Groeger ’08, the meeting will bring together administrators and faculty from the departments that have endorsed the 12-person cap.

—Staff Writer Zara Zhang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @zarazhangrui.


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