EPC Leads Academic Reform

When George H. "Troy" Durham III '99 transferred to Harvard from the University of Utah, he discovered the College did not have a language placement exam in Portuguese, a language placement exam in Portuguese, a language Durham spoke fluently after living in Portugal for two years.

But after meeting last fall with Smith Professor of Language and Literature Joaquim-Francisco Coelho, the Romance Languages Department's undergraduate advisor in Portuguese, Durham took a special exam and placed out of the language requirement.

But the College's language requirement might not be around for the long haul. This December, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) will review a proposal to change the way undergraduates prove their proficiency in a foreign language.

Any change to the language requirement could potentially affect how admissions applicants plan their high school Advanced Placement courses and how undergraduates arrange their schedules, and could trigger fluctuations in language course enrollment.

The key to the sweeping academic changes the Faculty will debate in December--which include not only language requirement reform, but also a reduction in the overall number of academic requirements--is a small committee professors know as the Educational Policy Committee (EPC).

Chaired by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Jeremy R. Knowles and Dean of Undergraduate Education William M. Todd III, the EPC is currently preparing a report for the December meeting of the full Faculty, which must approve by vote all academic changes.

Although the changes the EPC has debated since last May 20--when the Faculty empowered it to examine the requirements--will affect mainly undergraduates, no students sit on the committee.

Knowles, Todd, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz, former Dean of Undergraduate Education David Pilbeam and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Christoph Wolff represent the FAS administration on the EPC.

The remaining eight members of the committee--which Knowles started in 1991--are drawn from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

In creating the committee, Knowles engineered a powerful advisory body to help him propose changes to the Faculty.

"[The EPC] deals in a relatively unstructured way with the entire range of issues in, primarily, although not exclusively, undergraduate education," says Pil-beam, who has served on the EPC since its founding.

In the past, the EPC has examined summa cum laude degrees, grade inflation and joint concentrations, according to Knowles.

Re-Engineering Requirements

This fall, the EPC is using a variety of sources to propose new requirements, including past College practices. In addition to using the Registrar's statistics, the committee also solicits data, "for comparison, from peer institutions," Knowles says.

But the committee is not actively seeking student input, and few students have been made aware that they can register written comments on requirements for EPC consideration.

Before the EPC submits its report--which committee members say will be preliminary--to the full Faculty, the proposal will first go to the Faculty Council, the smaller elected body which vets all legislation for the FAS.

In the past, the Faculty has generally adopted recommendations made by the Faculty Council, so a favorable reception by the council would indicate that the Faculty might approve the EPC's report.

But the EPC does not have the power to propose formal legislation to the Faculty.

"Legislation has to come from the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) and the Faculty Council," Todd says.

Indeed, the CUE--a committee which consists of professors and Undergraduate Council student representatives--is the only point on the EPC report trajectory where students can directly affect the reform's outcome.

Committee members say the EPC report is still in the planning stages.

"At this point, the EPC will try to shape the issues and present some background data, while continuing to collect additional information," Wolcowitz says. "Both issues are quite complex, so the EPC is not ready after such a short amount of time to make specific proposals."

But professors on the committee say the EPC will eventually have a major impact on undergraduate requirements