Educators Critique Harvard in Report
An external review of Harvard released this week by a team of prominent educators offers a broad indictment of the University, criticizing its lack of student-faculty contact, its poor academic advising, and its decentralized structure.
While the team of nine educators evaluating Harvard's undergraduate experience praised the school for its intellectual atmosphere and for the success of its academic mission, the report concludes that students often do not experience the "full richness of the educational program."
"It was particularly troubling that some number of students might feel lost or not well enough advised or not inspired to take full advantage of what Harvard has to offer," said Colin G. Campbell, president of Wesleyan University and chairman of the evaluation team, in a telephone interview yesterday.
The nine-page report, prepared for Harvard's 10-year reaccreditation to the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, urges better overall communication among faculty members and between faculty and students. The team visited Harvard for three days in April, and the University compiled a 150-plus-page report on undergraduate life to prepare the committee.
The evaluation report criticizes what it calls insufficient student- faculty involvement, both in and out of the classroom. "The degree of senior faculty detachment from these matters is troubling," the report says.
"An atmosphere in which only the most aggressive and persistent under-graduate is likely to experience the inspiration that is so often a result of faculty-student interaction outside of the classroom seems inconsistent with Harvard's sense of mission and aspirations forits students," the report continues.
American University Professor of Mathematicsand Computer Science Mary W. Gray, a member of theevaluation team, said students "without a gooddeal of initiative" have almost no contact withprofessors at Harvard.
"If one goes to a school with the reputation ofHarvard, one would like to profit a little moredirectly from that reputation, which means moreinteraction with senior faculty," Gray said.
The reaccreditation commission calls on thesenior faculty to take a heightened role inacademic advising and departmental tutorialprograms. And, while praising Harvard's concernfor freshmen, the team singled out for criticismacademic advising in the first year, saying themembers were "surprised by the range of persons"who serve as advisers.
In addition, the evaluation team faultedHarvard's decentralized system of governance forhaving a "fragmenting effect on facultyrelations." Faculty members lack a common causeand an understanding of other departments, thereport says.
The report also calls the decision-makingprocess on matters such as faculty positions,workload and sabbaticals "unduly mysterious,leading to unhealthy suspicion and cynicism" amongprofessors. The report urges better communicationbetween the administration and the faculty,especially about budget matters, so as not toundermine morale.
"Faculty members need to know when decisionsare being made, and by whom," the report says. "Itis beyond our mandate to make a specificrecommendation as to a particular mechanism foraccomplishing improved communications, but we areconvinced that a new approach is called for."
President Bok in an interview yesterday said hewelcomes the report and he is discussing some ofits findings with Dean of the Faculty A. MichaelSpence. He said the faculty should discussbroad-reaching educational issues and not justtake votes on legislation, as has been the trendin recent years.
The evaluation team also examined theundergraduate curriculum. The report expressesadmiration for the Core but also concern that Corecourses often grow so large as to make theexperience too passive for students.
Although the report calls concentrations"Harvard at its best." it says students have thetendency to "over-concentrate," or specialize inone narrow field to the exclusion of all others,especially foreign languages.
One solution the evaluation team offers is acap on the number of courses a student can take inhis concentration. The report also calls for morefaculty involvement in long-term curriculumplanning.
Members of the evaluation team concluded theQuantitative Reasoning Requirement (QRR) "offersno guarantee that the students have a meaningfullevel of manipulative skills much less anunderstanding of quantitative and logicalreasoning and the essence of mathematics as adiscipline."
"If you're gonna have one, have one," Campbellsaid.
Bok yesterday defended the QRR but said theremay be room for improvement.
In addition, the reaccreditation team calledfor writing to be taught across the curriculum,not just in the freshman expository writingprogram.
Although the commission expressed admirationfor Harvard's counseling services, it suggestedthe University review and possibly centralize theextensive system, which includes the Bureau ofStudy Counsel and the Freshman Dean's Office.
"We felt it might be possible to clarify forstudents what routes were for dealing withproblems," Campbell said.
Barring the unlikely event that the New EnglandAssociation of Schools and Colleges requiresHarvard to take specific action to winreaccreditation, the report will serve only assuggestions for the University, Campbell said.
The reaccreditation report was discussed atthis week's meeting of the executive steeringcommittee of the Faculty and may be considered atlater meetings, according to the committeespokesman