SANDERS Theater. Originally, it was built as a memorial to the brave sons of Harvard who gave their lives in the World Wars. Unfortunately, of late, it has come to represent something far more trivial: the Core Curriculum. No longer a haven for heroes, it is now home to "Ec 10," "Justice," "Jesus and the Moral Life," and the newest addition, "Cultural Revolution."
As the Core celebrates its 10th anniversary, there has been a great deal of Administration back-patting. Unfortunately, they have failed to fully consider student opinions of the Core Program.
While most students would agree that the Core is basically an acceptable approach to liberal education, the overwhelming majority are quick to point out its logistical flaws, namely the massive class sizes and the limited course selection.
Susan Lewis, Director of the Core Curriculm, has been consistently unavailable for comment and has refused to give Core enrollment figures. But, Lewis did address the issue last week in the Administration-produced Harvard Gazette. She claimed that the Core offered many small courses, pointing to 26 courses with enrollment of less than 60 students.
While 60 people will never constitute an intimate atmosphere, this reporter found that of those 26 courses (based on a CUE guide listings of class size), 15 required a foreign language (Foreign Cultures), A.P. physics or chemistry (Science A), or enrollment fees for art supplies (Literature & Arts B).
THE Core offers too few courses in each of its 10 subject areas and consequently, large classes result. For example, last fall each area averaged a mere 4.3 course offerings, with some areas, like Moral Reasoning, offering as few as two classes. When only two classes are offered for a student body of over 6000, those classes obviously will become large and unwieldly. These large classes become, as Professor Richard Pipes told the Harvard Gazette, "like an Off-Broadway production."
Pipes hit what has become a fact of life: the transformation of the Core course into a multimedia extravaganza. After watching the far-off song and dance of Harvard's hottest star professors, the bright lights and big names have all blurred the Core into some intellectual imitation of MTV--with the depth and sincerity to match.
Unfortunately, for students dissatisfied with large class sizes, the Core offers very few alternatives to the "Monster Cores." The best courses (according to the CUE Guide) and the easiest (according to Crimson editors) are consistently huge. Thus, these students are forced to endure the inaccessibility of the professor, the bureaucracy of sectioning, the personal quirks of the teaching fellow army, and the inevitable race for the Coop's inadequate book supply.
THE Core's problem is not large courses; large, popular courses exist at all universities. But the Core forces students into large courses by offering no other alternatives, as if subjecting us to inescapable hours of MTV re-runs (Help!, Michael Jackson, and Michael Sandel--All Day, All Night, On MTV).
While some professors, like Henry Rosovsky (the architect of the Core Curriculm), claim that there is no correlation between class size and educational quality, students do not have the freedom of choice to test that contention. The large size of the Core has become an inescapable element of Harvard's undergraduate education.
The most obvious solution to this dilemma is to increase the number of Core course offerings--a proposition that has received the support of Dean Michael A. Spence but seen little actual progress within the Core program.
Unfortunately, the Core's bureaucracy makes additional offerings extremely difficult. In order to offer an additional Core, a professor must submit to a tedious petitioning process. Then, once accepted, the professor faces additional logistical problems of preparing for the "masses."
Perhaps a more lasting solution would be to require senior faculties to participate more actively in the Core. While 95 percent of all Core courses are taught by senior faculty, less than 50 percent of senior faculty actually teach a Core.
Of course, this proposition "steals" professors away from other courses. But if the Faculty feels that the Core is the foundation of a liberal arts education, then it should back up that commitment with the necessary facilities and teaching time to provide a real education. Otherwise, the Core could be replaced by cable and VJ Dweezil Zappa.