Faculty Discuss Concentrations

Curricular review recommends implementing minors

The curricular review’s Educational Policy Committee (EPC) recommended yesterday that joint concentrations be eliminated in favor of “secondary fields” akin to minors, and that most concentrations cap requirements at 12 courses.

But the three Faculty members who responded to the report at yesterday’s full meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) disapproved of the recommendations, arguing that secondary fields ignore the intellectual benefits and selectivity of joint concentrations and that caps on concentration requirements disregard programs’ unique pedagogical needs.

The EPC’s draft report also recommended delaying concentration choice until the middle of the sophomore year to give students more time for exploration.

It also proposed that concentrations reexamine their programs with respect to prerequisites, student-faculty interaction, capstone experiences including the thesis, and honors criteria.

The report, released to the public yesterday, is similar to another draft report released by the EPC in May. While that report discussed the possibility for a “secondary field” it made no mention of abolishing the joint concentration.

EPC member and Professor of Economics David I. Laibson presented the report, stressing the academic flexibility the recommendations would offer students.

“We’re looking for more intellectual exploration, interdisciplinary work, student choice, flexibility,” Laibson said. “If there are very few requirements...students are challenged to explore different options.”

But Laibson said that since students may now take fewer courses, the success of the recommendations depends on the quality of concentration advising.

The curricular review’s Committee on Advising and Counseling released a report in May, recommending more faculty participation in undergraduate advising and the hiring of an Associate Dean for Advising. That report also urged concentrations to improve pre-concentration advising.

The three professors who spoke in response to the report at the meeting criticized its ideas.

The report allows for some exceptions to the concentration cap, but several professors called the cap too restrictive.

Cabot Professor of Biology Richard M. Losick said the cap will especially hurt science programs, which he said require a higher minimum of courses to ground students in the discipline.

“Some of us in the sciences and engineering find this dismaying if not insulting,” Losick said. “The number 12 works for some concentrations but not for others.”

Losick said he would consider resigning as head tutor of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology if the cap were approved.

“This is a point of principle for me,” he said. “I find it very hard to find myself continuing as head tutor under these circumstances.”

Baird Professor of Science Gary J. Feldman reported to the Faculty that the Physics department, of which he is a member, voted unanimously that the EPC should reconsider its recommendation to eliminate joint concentrations.

Feldman said secondary fields are an inferior option because though they appear on the transcript, they are absent on the diploma. He also said some secondary field studies will actually require students to take more courses than joint concentrations, citing the concentration combination of Physics with Mathematics or Astronomy.

English and American Literature and Language Department Chair James Engell also opposed switching to concentration caps and secondary fields on similar grounds.

Engell said departments must raise the “hurdle to a joint concentration high enough so as not to permit weaker students to do it.”

The faculty will discuss the EPC report more fully at its Nov. 8 meeting.

The Faculty also heard a report on undergraduate study abroad opportunities from three members of the Committee on Education Abroad.

Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs John H. Coatsworth said that the College’s goal is that every student participate in an international experience, though he stressed that such an experience would not be mandatory.

Coatsworth, along with Senior Lecturer on Molecular and Cellular Biology Robert A. Lue and Director of the Office of International Programs Jane Edwards, stressed the importance of increasing the academic opportunities and financial support available to students before that goal can be realized.

Also at the meeting, Cabot Professor of Social Ethics Mahzarin R. Banajireported on the October 3 meeting between two members of the Harvard Corporation—Robert D. Reischauer ‘63 and Nannerl Keohane—and six Faculty Council members, including herself.

Banaji said that at the meeting, the Council members raised their concerns about the resignation of Conrad Harper from the Corporation—the University’s highest governing body—this summer. They also asked for greater transparency in University planning and expressed their worries that the slowdown in FAS hiring may affect efforts to increase Faculty diversity.

There was no time for the meeting’s third agenda item, a presentation by Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Theda Skocpol on her priorities as dean.

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