Professional Conduct

Overview ›      Professionalism      Title IX      Student Privacy     

As a teacher of Harvard undergraduates, you are expected to act professionally in your dealings with your students and within your courses' teaching staffs. You must be fair, equally available to all of your students, friendly but not your students' friend, well-prepared for class, and prompt. You must also take seriously your obligations to protect your students’ private information and to act ethically with regard to any sensitive information you may obtain about your students and/or fellow teachers. The Bok Center supports Harvard's efforts in taking seriously the professional conduct of its instructors.

Pedagogy is, almost inevitably, a personal and emotionally-loaded activity. Many of us teach because we feel a calling to it, and we are excited and rejuvenated by the opportunity to participate in our students’ and colleagues’ lives at such a formative moment. It is natural to bond with our students, and for them to bond with us; to be curious about their lives beyond the classroom, and to share humanizing details about ourselves in return. Indeed, our pedagogy may be even more effective when we develop a rapport with our students and an understanding of the kinds of interests and preoccupations that have brought them to our classrooms in the first place, and occasionally students and their instructors develop lifelong friendships that persist even after graduation. The same is true, albeit in a different way, within the teaching staff of a course: ideally, faculty who employ Teaching Fellows are offering them mentoring as well as a paycheck, and Teaching Fellows often develop a spirit of camaraderie and friendship while working as members of the same course staff.

But we must always remember that when we are given access to our students’ and colleagues’ personal information, and set in relationships of authority, it is for a specific purpose—to achieve learning objectives in the classroom—and must handle the responsibilities that come with that privilege in an unambiguously professional way. This includes not only the expectation that we teach inclusively and respect the privacy of student information, but also that we respect the policies set by our departments and colleagues and enforce them consistently and equitably.

Title IX
Consistent with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Harvard University does not discriminate against students, faculty or staff based on sex in any of its programs or activities, including but not limited to educational programs, employment, and admission. Sexual harassment, including sexual violence, is a kind of sex discrimination and is prohibited by Title IX and by the University.  Harvard also complies with Massachusetts laws that protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as well as on the basis of gender identity. University Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy applies to all Harvard University students, faculty, staff, appointees, or third parties.In addition, FAS has specific policy and resources available.

The University Policy provides that University officers, other than those who are prohibited from making such notifications because of a legal confidentiality obligation, must promptly notify the School or Unit Title IX Coordinator about possible sexual or gender-based harassment. This means that if those University officers learn about a possible incident, they need to contact the Title IX Coordinator, who will determine what steps, if any, to take next.

Student Privacy
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, commonly known as FERPA, mandates that the university take the utmost care in handling students’ private information, including their grades in our courses. As an instructor, you should make sure that students’ grades are not distributed or otherwise exposed in a public way; graded assignments should not be left unattended for students to pick them up, or passed back in such a way as to alert students to each others’ grades. Likewise you should be careful to protect your students’ private information: use Canvas or the BCC: field when emailing multiple students, for example, and do not make student ID photos or numbers available to public view. You may be contacted by a student requesting an accommodation sanctioned by the Accessible Education Office. Insofar as possible, you should arrange the specified accommodation for the student (e.g. assistance with note-taking) in such a way that the identity of the student in question is not signalled to the rest of the class.