Still Rotten at the Core

Core Program offerings lack in quantity, quality--and should allow departmental courses

Core Program offerings lack in quantity, quality--and should allow departmental courses

Once again, undergraduates are faced with the frustrating task of fulfilling Core curriculum requirements. Once again, the number of Cores is disappointingly low.

Only three Core classes are offered this term in the Literature and Arts A category. And while there have been marked improvements in the breadth of offerings in several categories of the Core, the number of offerings in many areas remains unsatisfactory. The paucity of choice for Social Analysis is the most striking: There are only seven courses offered this year, and there are no options for departmental substitution. Foreign Cultures is offering fourteen classes this year, but four courses are taught in a foreign language--all in French--and one is the continuation of another. There are still no classes devoted to any part of the entire continent of Africa.

In order to supplement the dismal number of Core classes offered the Standing Committee on the Core Program should broaden the selection of departmental courses that can be taken for Core credit. Because they allow students the opportunity to take many departmental courses for credit the Science and QRR categories of the Core continue to be the most flexible in their provision of choice for students. Unfortunately, there are still no departmental courses offered which satisfy any of the Literature and Arts, Social Analysis or Historical Study A requirements.

The mission statement of the Core specifies that the courses offered are designed to teach "approaches to knowledge." Although some courses in each department might not teach to this philosophy, it cannot exclude all the courses offered. For example, why is Social Analysis 38: "Social Stratification" acceptable for the Core while Sociology 124: "Social Stratification" is not? Why is a course on the Civil War allowed when one on Reconstruction is not?

A policy that restricts students to a tiny number of watered-down courses is antithetical to the University's standard of excellence. The lack of choice can force students to take easier Core courses instead of more advanced ones in the same field. We recall the words of President A. Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877, the founder of the Core curriculum. He believed that "Harvard students should graduate knowing a little bit of everything and something well." Limiting the scope of the Core curriculum is clearly not fulfilling his vision.