Gen Ed Meets to Work on Report

Committee members hope to file report

Members of the Curricular Review’s Committee on General Education, the only review committee that has yet to issue a written report to the Faculty, met last Thursday for the first time this summer to work on the committee’s report with the goal of completing a set of recommendations by the fall semester.

The committee is expected to produce a guiding philosophy for general education that will serve as the cornerstone of the entire review. It has, however, been criticized over the past year for its inability to develop such a philosophy.

The committee submitted a “Draft Final Report” to the Faculty Council five months ago, but the Council—the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ 18-member governing body—was disappointed with what they called the report’s lack of vision, and ultimately killed it before it was released to the entire Faculty.

Bass Professor of English and American Literature and Language Louis Menand, one of seven members of the general education committee who attended the July 28 meeting, said that the basic question of what general education at Harvard should look like was discussed at the meeting. And Saltonstall Professor of History Charles S. Maier ’60, another committee member who attended the meeting, said that the committee plans to meet again some time later this month and ultimately submit a report that could run about 30 pages long.

In addition to Maier and Menand, the other committee members who attended the meeting were Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, Fisher Professor of Natural History and Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Andrew Knoll, Bass Professor of Government Michael J. Sandel, and Professor of Philosophy Alison Simmons. Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, an ex officio member of the committee, was also present, along with other guests.

University President Lawrence H. Summers, who was involved with the Committee on General Education as an ex officio member in 2004, did not attend the meeting. He ceased his formal contribution to the review in 2005, citing a desire “for the Faculty to take full responsibility for the review.”

The question of what general education at Harvard should look like has been under discussion for two years now—first by a committee from the 2003-04 academic year, and then by the current committee last year—though few definitive recommendations have emerged.

The suppressed March 2005 “draft final report,” a copy of which was obtained by The Crimson, recommended replacing the Core with a mixture of distributional requirements and as-yet vaguely defined “Harvard College Courses.” Though the Harvard College Courses will likely exist, they will do so under a more unassuming moniker.

“I think we have made some progress in articulation,” Maier said of the committee’s work, adding however: “There are still decisions to be made...[but] I think we will have something by the fall.”

The committee members working over the summer are attempting both to fill in details lacking from their previous report—such as what Harvard College Courses could look like—and to provide more justification for the foundation of their recommendations by answering questions such as “Why one should move onward from the core,” Maier said.

“Every faculty member will tell you the defects” of the March report, he said. That 10-page report was notoriously lacking of detail, and Maier said the committee is hoping that its new and longer report will placate professors with a “much fuller explanation” of the choices the committee made, including the way it hopes to balance distributional requirements with special general education courses.

“I think we are all fairly agreed that there will be much more chance for distribution requirements to be done within the department [than was possible under the Core],” said Maier, but “we want to get a proposal that is much more persuasive.”

Once the report is completed, it will likely be discussed by the full gen ed committee before being sent to the Faculty Council, where the March report stalled.

If the new report is better received by the Council, they will release it to the full Faculty for discussion and an eventual vote.

In May, the Faculty Council added five Faculty meetings to the schedule for the 2005-06 academic year, in anticipation of the extra time that would be required to discuss reports such as the new general education recommendations.

—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at ehjacobs@fas.harvard.edu.