Review Report Will Call For Expanded Freshman Seminar Program

Despite the significant changes that the curricular review will mandate, the proposal for a new curriculum will highly endorse the existing Freshman Seminar program—and perhaps require that all first-years participate.

“There will be a strong recommendation to expand the program,” says Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies Jay Harris, who is also co-chair of the curricular review’s Working Group on Students’ Overall Academic Experience. “There’s a very broad consensus that it’s a good thing for freshmen to have small-group experiences of some kind, whether freshman seminars or something else.”

Harris says the Freshman Seminar program had been expanding since before the review—this year, there are over 100 Freshman Seminar offerings—and that he feels it will soon be the norm that students take a freshman seminar.

Harris says the possibility also exists that the program will become mandatory for all first-years.

“There is still some discussion as to the mandatory piece,” he says.

The proposal to expand the program is likely to enjoy widespread support among the faculty.

“I certainly think it should be expanded,” says Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language Homi K. Bhabha. “I think freshman seminars are really the Petri dishes—the laboratories—of interdisciplinary work.”

Other professor agree.

“The program strikes me as one of the best at Harvard—far more vital than the Core at present, and more attractive both to faculty and to students,” says Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture Rabun Taylor, who taught Freshman Seminar 35s, “Roman Art and Society” in the Fall.

“I suspect that some faculty are fleeing the Core in favor of Freshman Seminars, where they can accomplish many of the same teaching goals—but with far more motivated (and often hand-picked) students,” he says.

Taylor praises the classes, saying the small class size enables professors to devote individual attention to students, facilitates class discussion and participation, and allows a strong bond to form between students and the professor.

Taylor says if the Faculty decides to expand the program, professors will gladly offer seminars.

“Time and again, I’ve been told by my colleagues what a rewarding experience it is to teach a freshman seminar,” he says.

“And it gives the professor an opportunity to shape the students’ perspectives early in their academic careers,” he adds. “There is no better way to recruit students into a concentration.”

—Staff writer William C. Marra can be reached at wmarra@fas.harvard.edu.