The Stagnant Debate

When the Doty Committee's report on General Education was issued last spring, President Pusey said that he hoped it would stimulate a "great debate" within the University. Today, as the Faculty meets for its first full discussion of the report, that debate has conspicuously failed to materialize. With a few exceptions, the report has evoked only an embarrassed murmur of indifference from most members of the community.

The sterility of the debate so far is due in part to the difficulty of discussing Gen Ed at all; it is a large, loose topic with a complicated history. And the chance for intelligent discussion over the past two years was ignored by the Administration, which inexplicably insisted that the work of the Doty Committee be shrouded in secrecy.

But the stagnation is also due, we feel, to the Doty Report's vagueness, to its reshuffling of a tired constellation of ideas into a hodge-podge form which bears a suspicious resemblance to the existing structure. The University, long a leader in higher education, has been given a pragmatic document which meets the challenge to General Education not with fresh ideas but with administrative tinkering. For example, the Committee justifies its most striking educational change, the division of knowledge into Sciences and Humanities, as much by administrative reasons as philosophical ones.

Members of the Doty Committee defend the report's vagueness. It is, one member said last week, naive to try to define Gen Ed too precisely; after all, the Committee has worked for two years and considered a host of alternatives before reaching the published formulation. But we think it is naive of the Committee to expect a commitment to General Education from the Faculty when it fails to confront important questions of definition upon which the whole Gen Ed program must rest.

How, for example, could the Committee fail to define the role of a Gen Ed course? How could it ask for an elaborate administrative structure when its own goals for General Education could be satisfied with a program of distribution requirements among introductory departmental courses? Why should history and government be split away from related disciplines--sociology, anthropology, and psychology? Why should a program of General Education have "specialization" as one of its goals?

Although the Committee has spent long hours debating these questions, with a laudable sacrifice of time, the report does not reflect the contours of their thought. The responsibility now lies with the Faculty, both today and in ensuing meetings, to prod the Doty Committee to reveal its reasoning. Only when a boldness of thought and definition replaces a conservative and politic vagueness can energetic debate begin and, more importantly, will students and Faculty alike give their interest and commitment to the program of General Education at Harvard.