Regarding “Editorial: Improving Precept” (Friday, May 11, 2011):
The ‘Prince’s’ Editorial Board makes a factual error in its call for “Improving Precept.” Princeton’s teaching requirement for graduate students is just about the slightest among its “peers,” defined either narrowly as the Ivies or more broadly as American research universities. Teaching is also almost never voluntary at those institutions; even some of the most prestigious university fellowships at Harvard, Yale or Berkeley require at least some teaching. In my opinion, all of this is as it should be: Graduate students are training to be teachers as well as researchers, and teaching classes is the only way to learn to teach. If the Editorial Board is sincerely concerned about the quality of precepts at Princeton, it should encourage the University to make more teaching available to graduate students. At present, many graduate students (at least in the humanities) have trouble finding courses to fulfill their teaching requirements. The University only grants professors a graduate student AI when they have enough students to fill two precepts (meaning the professor must be his or her own “first preceptor”), and it does not allow graduate students to teach their own seminars or tutorials (a commonplace at other institutions). Another way for Princeton to improve graduate student pedagogy is to encourage more teaching in the community by supporting programs like the Prison Teaching Initiative, which allows graduate students to teach college-level courses in local prisons.
Matthew Spellberg GS
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