Awaiting Students, Curricular Review Committees Take Shape

The Office for Undergraduate Education outlined a process for student involvement in the upcoming review of the curriculum yesterday, the first public movement on the much heralded initiative in several months.

In an e-mail message to all undergraduates, Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71 invited students to apply for seats on four committees that will be responsible for proposing the first across-the-board changes to the undergraduate curriculum in a quarter century.

The recommendations of these committees—which will focus on “academic experience,” pedagogical structure, the Core and concentrations—will inform an eventual vote of the full Faculty.

These committees, Gross said, will be a main vehicle for student input in the process.

“I think that these committees are going to be very open,” said Gross, who with Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby will steer the review. “I received about 20 e-mails from students about this review, even before [our invitation]. The students who have contacted me have good ideas.”

Six senior Faculty members, two junior Faculty members, two undergraduates, one graduate student and one administrator are expected to serve on each committee.

The Faculty co-chairs for the four committees will be announced at the Faculty Council meeting today, Gross said.

Student applicants have to submit 250-word statements to the Office for Undergraduate Education by March 12.

After the applications are submitted, the Undergraduate Council (UC) will begin an extensive vetting process to choose a handful of finalists.

From this group, Dean Gross will choose the eight undergraduate representatives for the committees, although the council is expected to have a role in the final decision as well.

Council President Rohit Chopra ’04 said that the process of choosing candidates will largely depend on the number of applications received.

“I would like to have a group of UC members interview every applicant,” Chopra said. “We also might do a screening process—it’s hard to communicate everything in a vague 250-word statement.”

Despite the fact that only eight College students will serve on the committees, Chopra assured that all Harvard undergraduates will have a role in the curricular review process.

This commitment has been echoed by both Gross and Kirby, who have spoken extensively with student representatives to the Committee on Undergraduate Education and the Undergraduate Council during the past months.

“Almost every major category is open for discussion and interpretation,” Kirby said. “The Faculty is very excited. Those who are not part of the committees are encouraged to let us know what their views are.”

Chopra said that an open online forum for student feedback, continual updates on the council Web site and House-based discussion sessions may be pursued in order to keep the undergraduate community involved.

Applicants will be selected based on academic background, extracurricular involvement and the amount of time they can commit to the process, Gross said.

Graduating seniors and students planning on taking leaves of absence in the upcoming year will not be considered for the eight positions.

Graduate students across the University were also invited yesterday to apply for one of four spots on the committees.

“In my opinion, the graduate students who are picked must be Teaching Fellows or tutorial leaders,” Chopra said. “We also need participation from recent graduates, because they have an invaluable perspective on a Harvard education.”

The committees, which are expected to be finalized by early April, will meet several times this spring, although formal deliberations will not take place until next fall.

The last curricular review, which was completed in 1974, took five years to complete.

This time, Kirby hopes to move things along at a quicker pace: he aims to have a set of conclusions to present to the Faculty by the end of the 2003-2004 academic year.

If the process proceeds at such a rigorous clip, the changes to the curriculum could start to go into effect during the 2005-2006 academic year, Kirby said.

Gross, however, has doubts about this projection.

“I doubt that any curricular changes will affect anybody who is at school right now,” Gross said.

—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at robrien@fas.harvard.edu.