MANY IN THE UNIVERSITY community have repeatedly voiced concern over the pre-med crisis during this academic year. Appalled by the striking upsurge in the number of students pursuing a pre-medical course of study, many have justifiably questioned the University's stance and intent regarding excessively cramped basic science courses and the present pre-medical advisory system. Nevertheless, few have offered a viable mechanism with which the University or prospective med school candidates might cope with their respective dilemmas.
Last week, when a special committee charged with examining Harvard's pre-medical advisory system released its report, the University community was treated to the first indication that the Administration recognizes the existence of a pre-med "crisis" and has been seriously--if not overtly--concerned with the issue.
We are encouraged by the milestones set in the establishment of the commission. We welcome the unprecedented pooling of resources of the three faculties--Arts and Science, Medicine, and Public Health--in the formulation of recommendations on issues of an interdisciplinary nature.
However, the report of the prestigious 11-member committee falls far short of concrete recommendations on issues with which we would expect the University to come to terms. The most significant recommendations of the committee are largely passive ones: that there be no ceiling placed on the numbers of students admitted to basic pre-med courses, and that the number of science concentrators not be restricted by the respective departments nor limited by a screening procedure at the admissions level.
WE CONCUR with the committee that it is essential that Harvard be realistic in assessing individual students' chances of admission to med school given the national paucity of med school places, and that it provide adequate information to students about alternative non-medical health care careers. We agree that careers should not be presented merely as alternatives for the students who failed to gain admission to medical school, but be offered as rewarding first-choice options.
Although the committee apparently went beyond its mandate to study Harvard's pre-medical advisory system, it failed to adequately examine alternatives to the present structure of Harvard pre-medical instruction. It did not recommend the institution of a second organic chemistry course or a way in which intense competition in very overcrowded basic pre-med courses might be alleviated.
Unfortunately, the committee's recommendations that neither departments nor the admissions committee screen prospective med school applicants by any formal procedure, and its lack of recommendations regarding demands imposed on resource-deficient science departments implicitly endorses screening on the basis of grades received in very overcrowded basic pre-med courses.
We hope that the new dean--who will be responsible for translating the committee's recommendations into concrete terms--will work for the effective sharing of teaching resources among the three schools as a means for resolving the crisis.