Time magazine likes to call it the "New Mood on Campus"; those of a less charitable bent might refer to the phenomenon as "festering pre-professionalism.' But for the average Harvard student, the list of most popular courses released this week--top-heavy with guts and premed courses--contained few surprises.
Least surprising of all was the news that for the umpteenth year in a row Economics 10, "Principles of Economics," led the list of largest courses. Nine hundred and ninety-three undergraduates--not including those laggards who didn't file their study cards on time--have signed up for a year's worth of supply and demand curves, giving Ec 10 almost 300 more students than any other course in the College.
Otto Eckstein, Warburg Professor of Economics and chief lecturer in Ec 10, credited the nation's poor economic health with spurring this latest surge of interest in the course. "When the economy is going bad, our enrollment jumps," he said.
The course figures seem to testify to the Carter administration's problems with inflation and the balance of payments: this year, Ec 10's enrollment increased by 73 students.
The real story, though, appears to lie in the popularity of courses below Ec 10 on the popularity list. Of the remaining nine, at least five have the reputation of being less than academically rigorous, while another--Chemistry 20a, "Organic Chemistry"--is considered quite tough, but can't be sidestepped by students with dreams of medical school.
The five courses that appear to have earned their popularity, at least in part, by remaining less than a threat to a student's grade-point average are: Humanities 9a, "Oral and Early Literature"; Natural Sciences 110, "Automatic Computing"; Social Sciences 160, "Nonverbal Communication"; Fine Arts 13, "Introduction to the History of Art" (generally considered a gut only when taken pass/fail); and Astronomy 8, "Cosmic Evolution."
Not all the courses were as popular as last year. Astro 8, long a favorite of the football and hockey teams, dropped more than 120 students in enrollment from last year--a fall that could have something to do with the efforts of course instructors to tighten up requirements.
Some professors clearly understand the dynamics of course selection. Irven DeVore, professor of Anthropology, who teaches Nat Sci 19, "Biology and Behavior through the Life Cycle"--a newcomer to the popularity list this year--said he believes the course became popular because "there are a lot of people looking for a less demanding, labless Natural Science course."
DeVore's observation just about says it all, at least for this year.
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