Professors Turn Down Requiring History

Faculty will continue to discuss General Education legislation next week

Professors rejected a call to add more history to the proposed general education curriculum in a close vote at yesterday’s sometimes-chaotic meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Faculty members spent nearly an hour debating whether to add the word “history” to the “Culture and Belief” category of the program that could replace the Core Curriculum as early as Fall 2008. The amendment, initially backed by 65 professors, ultimately failed in an 88-68 vote.

That the outcome of the vote could only be determined by a recount underscored the procedural confusion that plagued much of the meeting. Professors left the 90-minute session having addressed amendments to only two of the eight proposed academic categories, leaving the rest for a previously unscheduled meeting next Tuesday.

Yesterday’s gathering provided the Faculty with its first chance to consider the general education legislation, which a three-professor committee translated from the final proposal released in February. The full Faculty will have to address all of the amendments before voting on the revised legislation; Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and University President Derek C. Bok, who are both leaving their interim posts on July 1, have urged professors to pass the legislation by the end of the academic year.

In a wide-ranging discussion, professors touched on both the finer points of grammar and the meaning of a liberal arts education. But the meeting was dominated by the controversial amendment put forward by Professor of History of Art and Architecture Jeffrey F. Hamburger on behalf of 64 others to rename one of the proposed categories “Culture, History, and Belief.”

“I believe to the extent that we can claim anything to be a universal category, the study of the past is one such category,” Hamburger told the Faculty. An explanatory note to his amendment argued that “it is impossible to understand culture and structures of belief” without discussing “the historical traditions that inform them.”

Hamburger said that opponents to the amendment feared a history “interest group.” One of the opponents, Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society Diana L. Eck, said, “It gradually would become the history category... Culture and Belief is broader than that.”

Outgoing Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Theda Skocpol agreed, saying, “Culture and belief can be now or in the past, and I don’t think we need that word.”

After two counts of professors’ raised hands—the first tally announced as a tie—the amendment fell 20 votes short of passing.

Earlier in the meeting, professors voted overwhelmingly to reaffirm the College’s mission to offer a liberal arts education, redefining it as “an education conducted in a spirit of inquiry rewarding in its own sake.”

The vote came in response to an amendment put forth by Joseph Professor of Engineering and Applied Mathematics Howard A. Stone that would have stricken the term “liberal education” from the legislation’s preamble.

Stone said that the definition of a liberal education in the original legislation, an education “undertaken without concern for topical relevance or vocational utility,” reflects only “one view of what a liberal arts education is.”

Minutes later, Saltonstall Professor of History Charles S. Maier ’60 proposed an amendment to Stone’s amendment that would preserve the “liberal education” term but scrap the exceptions for relevance and vocational utility.

That motion passed with only a handful of professors voting against it.

Before tackling the general education legislation, the Faculty unanimously approved a motion to combine the Department of Comparative Literature and the Standing Committee on Degrees in Literature to create a new department called Literature and Comparative Literature, effective July 1.

The proposal was introduced by Conant University Professor Stephen Owen, chair of the soon-to-be-defunct Department of Comparative Literature. Owen said the merger would create a “predictable curriculum,” allow for advising by “faculty centrally located rather than peripherally involved,” and provide other resources that “only a department can have.”

—Staff writer Johannah S. Cornblatt can be reached at jcornbl@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Alexandra Hiatt can be reached at ahiatt@fas.harvard.edu.