Advice for the Dean
"The Harvard student body will be chosen as special assistants to President Kennedy's cabinet," a newspaper columnist quipped recently. Certainly the exodus of some highly-placed University officers compliments the faculty's interest and competence in public affairs. Such professorial excellence may not parallel a first-rate undergraduate system of education, however. This point has been raised frequently in these columns for the last year; with the exception of the moribund Student Council Committee on Educational Policy, the CRIMSON is the only organized undergraduate voice for curricular criticism.
Harvard's name has been associated with many previous educational innovations. Free electives, fields of concentration, widespread Honors tutorial, and General Education all had their roots in Cambridge. Of course, many of these changes involved large expenditures; few other colleges enjoyed the benefits of a Harkness, Burr, or Widener, or of an $82.5 million Program. But the material changes brought by the Program--Quincy and Leverett, a Le Corbusier Design Center on stilts, a Health Center--are only ancillary to education. Many vital parts of the College, such as the Library, gained little from the drive, perhaps since graduates prefer brick and tower to book and teacher.
Even without major expenditure, however, Harvard can accomplish a great deal to justify its claim to intellectual and educational leadership. John L. Holland, Director of Research for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, commented recently that "expensive colleges may not necessarily be the best," and that the "productivity of schools depends "more on the quality of its incoming students than on any attributes of the college itself." But high-quality students matriculate in Cambridge, and still may not gain the most valuable education.
Mr. Bundy's successor will enjoy an almost unparalleled opportunity to channel undergraduate teaching in old or new directions, with or without major expenses. He can continue the trend toward academic specialization, which has made the College a prep school for graduate study, reassert the purposes of General Education, or choose from a variety of other courses. Many specific changes aimed toward greater curricular flexibility can enhance the quality of undergraduate education without involving large sums of money.
The new Dean should first consider a change in the academic calendar. The two-term system, culminating in a frenetic Reading Period, does not utilize classrooms and highly-paid professors' time as effectively as would a four-term program--three terms in the fall, winter, and spring, and one in the present summer vacation. The present framework is overly rigid, lacking the flexibility and experimentation possible under a revised system. Students could attend any of the ten-week terms; without taking a summer vacation, a student could graduate in three years. The academic load might be changed to three courses. Rescheduling and calendar shuffling certainly are not expensive, considering the manifest advantages, and have been proved worthwhile at Dartmouth and Pittsburgh.
Freshman Seminars have brightened an otherwise dull year in the Yard for a fortunate 19 per cent. The success of the seminar programs makes two points clear. First, Harvard students can benefit as much by group study as by individual tutorial. Such groups, whether financed by a generous patron or diversion of some Faculty funds, certainly can be extended through the Houses--with or without academic credit--to reach more than a fraction of a single class. And, secondly, the Freshman Seminars demonstrate in part the uninspiring conditions of the Yard. A calcified required composition course, the presence of disciplinary proctors instead of tutors, a singularly unattractive and crowded dining hall: all these petty annoyances combine with normal first-year traumas to keep the period below the normal College level of intellectual stimulation.
To convert the Yard dormitories into Houses would cost approximately $5 million, an expense much too great for architectural alterations. Yet many features of the House system, in particular resident tutors, can be extended to Freshmen without great expense. Intelligent experimentation on the basis of thirty years' use of the Houses can make a student's first year more rewarding intellectually.
The new Dean can gain educational flexibility by keeping Radcliffe's degree of independence. Throughout its history, the Annex (as it is still irreverently called) has sponsored educational programs of its own, with the Institute for Independent Study the latest manifestation. But since undergraduate education is the same for both colleges, there should be a Radcliffe representative on the Committee for Educational Policy to provide some voice for the 20 per cent of the undergraduates living up Garden Street. Greater Harvard administrative co-operation with Radcliffe and M.I.T. on property development and educational changes could benefit all three institutions. Pooled library resources would assist all students and save many costs.
Flexibility in Concentration
Most important, the new Dean should implement more flexible concentration requirements. Professor Gill's recent proposals present one attractive alternative. Tutorial would be open, in effect, to any student desiring it, and the "second-class citizen," the non-Honors candidate, would not be discriminated against.
Since 1958, the Committee on Educational Policy has favored weekly face-to-face confrontation of student and faculty as the best method of learning. Before any changes are effected, however, a study should be made of the relative merits of small group tutorial, occasional meetings with a tutor other than a student's own, tutorial with a fixed program (Economics 98), and tutorial specifically designed to fill gaps in a student's education (English 99). Many alternatives to individual tutorial exist, all of which deserve more detailed attention.
Honors in General Studies would be revivified under Professor Gill's plan. Uniform requirements would supplant the current confusion about cum laude in General Studies. At present, departments have adopted widely differing policies about nomination for the degree; should the Faculty legislation pass, a candidate for Honors in General Studies must receive Honor grades in his field of concentration and two subsidiary fields.
The present figure of 11 1/2 courses completed with A or B is too low. A B-average in all 16 1/2 courses, without the superfluous requirement of two additional fields, would provide adequate safeguards for the College's "realm of the intellect." The C.E.P. proposal has one other fault. It would bind a person to an Honors program in the senior year, including a thesis, unless the student opts for a degree in General Studies earlier. An individual should gain an exposure to thesis research--perhaps a term--before making an irrevocable decision.
Volumes can be filled with condemnation or praise of individual tutorial, the House system, or Freshman Seminars; there is no space to discuss more than a few proposals. Yet by testing new ideas and adopting flexible desirable innovations, Mr. Bundy's successor can make his greatest contribution to the College. Good education need be neither expensive nor rigid.