SPECIAL CONCENTRATORS

To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

On two occasions (May 26 and October 20), the Faculty has postponed expressing an opinion on the Plan for Special Concentrations painstakingly prepared by the Committee on Undergraduate Education and subsequently supported by the Faculty Council. Though not a member of either group. I took part in the planning of the proposal; I write now to express my concern over the Faculty's action, and to clarify my remarks following Professor Hoffmann's statement. For one thing, those of us- students and Faculty alike- who serve on committees and spend endless hours debating the issues to finally reach compromises in order to bring proposals to the Faculty, often find that reforms are turned down or postponed because they cannot be subsumed under a grand coherent scheme for undergraduate educational reform. Only in a small sectarian liberal arts college (St. Johns College in Annapolis or Santa Fe, for example) is such coherence likely; even then, the plan may express aspirations rather than actualities. I am skeptical whether rationales can ever be devised or agreed upon which will satisfy all comers. In a large university with divergent preoccupations among faculty and students, we may have to make do with incremental changes and small experiments, which could, however, become pilot models for larger changes.

As a matter of the Faculty Committee on Social Studies, I see a number of students who would like to enter that program but cannot because its size is restricted. A few of these may find in the Special Concentration option a way to hand-tailor a serious program, or they may discover in pursuit of such a program that one or another existing department can house them with reasonable resiliency. (Some students enter the Social Studies Program, as they enter Harvard College, because it has quality and distinction, whose educational goals are not in fact furthered by that particular choice.) And there may be other students as yet of indeterminate number, whose congeries of interests might be better served by a program they develop and who would in any case benefit from planning such a program. No one pretends that such a change will cure the malaise of undergraduates.

Faculty hesitation about this proposal in May and perhaps again in October may signify a kind of backlash: a sense, intensified by the amnesties of May, that curriculum may be disintegrating under the impact of Independent Study, Pass-Fail options, and generally softer or inflated grading. These faculty misgivings are not wholly irrational. But to vent them on a proposal that would demand serious examination of a student's idiosyncratic program creates a not uncommon union between pedagogic conservatives, who resent the symbolism of any change, and pedagogic rebels, whose visions of dramatic change differ so greatly among each other that I find it hard to imagine them agreeing on an alternative set of curricula. A good many students and some faculty would like to return to a system of free electives, abandoning both concentrations and General Education; the proposal for Special Concentrations is sufficiently restricted so as to make abuse unlikely, and by making any particular concentration seem less involuntary, because students have a chance to create their own, may help make concentration itself more desirable.'31 Ford Professor of the Social Sciences