First Steps to Core Reform
Administration should begin preparing for a departmental distribution requirement
The Core must be abolished, but its abolition will take time to implement. In the meantime, there are several intermediate steps that the administration should take: increasing the number of departmental classes that count for Core credit, opening the petition process and reintegrating Core courses into the academic departments.
First, many more departmental courses should be cross-listed to fulfill Core requirements. This step will allow students greater flexibility in determining their schedules and pursuing their interests without sacrificing their exposure to different methods of learning. It makes little sense to force students to take large, broad Historical Studies courses when they could learn the same skills in any history department class. This reform would also move the College towards a distribution requirement based solely on departmental courses.
Second, the petition process should be revamped into an open, uniform and sensible procedure. The Standing Committee on the Core Program should be more flexible, recognizing that Core courses are not the only classes from which undergraduates learn different approaches to knowledge. In addition, students should know which departmental courses have been accepted for Core credit in the past, and those courses should count in the future. The Committee must not continue to make unexplained decisions about departmental courses on an case-by-case basis.
Third, the College should work to reintegrate Core courses back into the traditional academic departments, where they would still count for Core credit. This would allow the departments closer control over courses within their disciplines, streamlining and refining Core offerings that have become massive, general lecture courses. Eventually, all the Core classes that clearly fit a department should be moved there, and those that for one reason or another cannot be integrated should be offered as General Education classes.
The Core cannot be eliminated in a day, or even a year, but these steps would vastly improve the quality of Harvard's undergraduate education. In the interest of Harvard's undergraduates, the Core must go.