On a campus where discussion of important issues is often confined to offhand remarks around the dinner table, last week's open forum on the Core was a refreshing change. The discussion was sponsored by the 11 members of the Undergraduate Council's Student Committee on Undergraduate Requirements and represented the culmination of a semester's worth of committee meetings.
Although only about 30 students (including nine committee members) attended the meeting, those who did participated in thoughtful and measured debate, ranging from complaints about the language requirement to recommendations for distributional requirements. Ideas were thrown up in the air, caught and tossed around before settling to rest--a nice interplay of thoughts that one doesn't often see at the College on a large scale.
Justin C. Label '97 emphasized at the beginning of the debate that the committee was there to listen to students, since its members had already ruminated upon the issues at length in weekly meetings. His promise held true, as committee members kept directing the conversation back to the students in attendance, soliciting their views and listening attentively.
The committee will consider the suggestions in writing their committee proposal on Core reform, scheduled for completion by the end of the semester.
The committee members themselves were astoundingly well-prepared to answer question. They had evaluated the curricula of 25 American colleges and were able to cite examples for nearly every question raised--the writing-intensive courses at Princeton, for instance, or the stringent common Core requirements at Columbia or the University of Chicago. They had obviously done their homework.
Our only regrets were that more students and administrators did not attend the forum. Admittedly, it took place during the windiest storm of the semester thus far, but students should have come to express their views on the rubric that determines one-quarter of their classes. Forums such as these are infrequent enough that students should have seized the chance.
And not one administrator attended--a sorry absence, for they would have learned a lot from the student input. We hope that they will be fully informed about the meeting by Label, who serves on the joint student-faculty Core Review Committee, and that they take into account both the input from the forum and from the undergraduate requirements committee when deciding how to reform the Core.
The forum blew a gust of fresh air into the musty recesses of Harvard's outdated Core. We encourage student groups to hold more such discussions and to solicit campus opinion on the issues that affect students most. We encourage the administration to listen to them.