Faculty Lays the Groundwork for Expansion
The Curriculum Review
When Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence makes his fundraising pitch to alumni, there's one thing he's sure to mention--the need to increase the size of the faculty.
Spence, who has spent the bulk of his five-and-a-half year tenure as dean on issues of faculty staffing, is quietly preparing to revamp the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). And he says he's convinced that increasing the number of senior faculty and bolstering the chances that junior faculty will receive tenure here are the keys to his plans for the venerable FAS.
To that end, the economist-turned-dean has launched what participants are calling "a curriculum review with a little `c' and a little `r'." The curriculum review, headed by Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education David Pilbeam, is designed to analyze the nuts and bolts of undergraduate education in each of the 42 concentrations, from tutorials to advising to course requirements.
"Virtually every question you could imagine about the structure of the curriculum and the way it is staffed and all the decisions that surround it are going to be affected in one way or another by this," says Spence.
It is a rare occurence when Harvard decides to review its undergraduate education: only twice in the last 50 years has the University undertaken such reviews, and the results--General Education and, later, the Core Curriculum--have had wide-ranging impacts in academia.
But while Pilbeam and the other four administrators on the committee insist that they are merely gathering information in hopes of bolstering the case for an increased faculty, they do say that a decision will be made in the next year about whether to launch a major curriculum overhaul.
Says Pilbeam, "This has a very serious educational component."
And for now, the most important component of the review is the role that it will play in helping sift through the myriad requests for new funds likely to become available from the impending University-wide capital campaign--expected to aim for up to $2 billion.
"We should not be trying to raise new resources before we have an understanding of how current resources are being used," says Jeffrey Wolcowitz, assistant dean for undergraduate education and a member of the curriculum panel.
Despite the possible long-term impact of the review, participants describe it as a low-key process intended simply to give administrators a better understanding of how the teaching of undergraduates is played out on a day-to-day basis.
"It's not a review that's necessarily designed to change anything or with any policy implications," says Wolcowitz.
The current review is typical of Spence's approach to guiding the 800-plus member faculty. It represents an exhaustive effort to gather information about the use of resources before making any decisions.
It is a strategy which has led some to question whether anything is being done under the Spence administration. But the dean argues that he entered office in 1984 with a dearth of information about the Faculty's financial standing and how it operates. The curriculum review is just one of his efforts to educate himself about his job, administrators say.
This has not been an easy task, administrators say, since FAS's fiercely independent departments and academic programs do not lend themselves easily to comprehensive study. "This is such an enormously diverse and autonomous place that there's very little standardization across the board," says Pilbeam.
FAS's decentralized structure has made the review process a time-consuming undertaking. In fact, one of the main reasons for conducting such a review in the first place is the lack of basic information about how departments structure the education of their concentrators.
So the review committee, comprised of Pilbeam, Wolcowitz, Associate Dean of the Faculty for Academic Planning Carol J. Thompson, Director of the Core Program Susan W. Lewis and Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57, plans to meet with each of the Faculty's concentrations by next year.
In each concentration meeting, the review panel will meet with the department chair, the head tutor and other relevant professors.
Department members will present the committee with information about how the undergraduate curriculum works, including information on the amount of student interest, departmental advising, concentration requirements, the "menu" and size of courses, the use of graduate student teaching fellows and the structure of tutorials.
Last year, the committee met with about a dozen concentrations, including the Faculty's largest--like Government and Economics--and others--like Fine Arts, Philosophy and Music--which are burdened with particularly heavy teaching commitments in the Core.
"It's very much `what's going on in our department now'," says Economics Head Tutor J. Bradford Delong '82. "It's not `we need x, y, z to function.'"
Spence says the information, once collected, will be reviewed by the Faculty Council, departments and a new academic policy committee, which the dean is in the process of assembling.
It is in these circles that the decisions will be made about who gets what and how much from the capital drive. Spence, however, will have broad powers to set the money priorities--just as he will bear much of the responsibility for FAS fundraising once it kicks into high gear.
The `Wish List'
At the top of FAS's "wish list," according to Spence, is the expansion of the faculty, a change which he has been lobbying for since early in his University Hall tenure. This could be tied to President Derek C. Bok's efforts to "internationalize" the Harvard curriculum, Pilbeam says.
"I'm already quite clear that the legitimate educational objectives and commitments of the faculty are beyond the capacity of a faculty at this size to meet effectively," says Spence. "We're cutting corners."
Says Pilbeam, "The obvious areas where one puts extra resources as far as undergraduate education is concerned would be more faculty--broadly defined--into course development, into thinking about the use of nonfaculty in teaching...and [into] the advising system."
Increasing the size of the faculty could hold the key to several other initiatives underway in University Hall, administrators say.
In addition to increasing interaction between professors and students, adding faculty could lessen the teaching loads of some graduate students. New Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Brendan A. Maher says this could be critical to reversing the decline in the number of Ph.Ds produced by graduate schools.
Adding new faculty positions, depending on how they are allocated, could also increase the ratio of tenured positions to untenured ones, leaving relatively fewer junior faculty members to compete for more tenured spots.
Increasing junior faculty's chances at tenure from within the University has long been Spence's top priority. Three years ago, the dean released a report on junior faculty, the much-touted "Spence plan," which advocated a set of measures designed to produce more junior faculty promotions.
But deciding where exactly to add new faculty members, assuming the resources are obtained to fund them, will be no easy task, professors and administrators say, as many departments compete for a relatively limited pool of money.
"The problem which always comes up in one context or another is the number of faculty we have," says Government Head Tutor Mark A. Peterson, whose remarks are echoed by members of many Harvard departments.
Making the Case
Potential donors will also want to know whether increasing the faculty merits their gifts, administrators say.
"In order to make that case, both to ourselves and ultimately in the context of a campaign, you have to essentially have gone through exactly the kind of process of analysis that David [Pilbeam] is spearheading," says Spence.
But a former associate dean for undergraduate education says that the fundraising campaign could raise other questions about the undergraduate curriculum.
Professor of History Steven Ozment says Harvard may be called to task for its reputation of not caring about undergraduates and their interaction with professors. Alumni, he says, may be reluctant to see their fundraising dollars go to aloof research professors.
"I think [Pilbeam's] got to be prepared to prove to people outside that this is not a problem," says Ozment. "I think that is going to test his agility."
Administrators say they would like to see the curriculum include more contact between senior facuty and students as well as more small classes. But they say a solution to the problem is not likely to be found within the scope of this current review.
"I'm not sure that those are the grand policy statements to be made in this report," says Wolcowitz.
Still, administrators stress that the curriculum review is more than just a precursor to the capital drive.
Pilbeam is open to the possibility that the rather informal review process could lead to something more sweeping, although he says it is still too early to tell.
"I suppose one way of thinking about what we're doing now is sort of walking our way around the landscape, learning about the landscape in order to decide to what extent we want to have a more formal look at any particular aspect," says Pilbeam.
Pilbeam, whose three-year term as dean ends after the spring semester, says that one of his last acts in office will be recommending to Spence whether a more dramatic review is warranted.
Says Pilbeam, "Long before this particular educational process is over I'm going to write Mike [Spence] a letter telling him whether I think there is any reason for a curriculum review with a capital `c', capital `r'."