Faculty Furthers Core’s Finale

Knowles ‘battling prostate cancer,’ Bok announces at Faculty meeting

Professors took another step toward eliminating the Core Curriculum at yesterday’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting, fine-tuning two of the most controversial categories of the new program of general education.

The two proposed fields, “Empirical Reasoning” and “Ethical Reasoning,” have previously faced criticism for too closely mirroring the “Quantitative Reasoning” and “Moral Reasoning” requirements of the Core.

The Faculty was without its dean yesterday. At the start of the meeting, University President Derek C. Bok said that Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles was absent due to complications from previously unannounced prostate cancer.

“For some time, Jeremy has been battling prostate cancer,” Bok said. “Last week, unfortunately, he suffered a setback that resulted in some acute and persistent pain. On doctor’s orders, he is at home while specialists at Mass. General Hospital work at developing an effective means at relieving that distress.”

In an e-mail sent to Faculty members after the meeting, Knowles said he hopes to return to University Hall soon.

“I’ll be working from home for a week or so, trusting (and believing!) that I shall be fully re-harnessed thereafter,” he wrote.

Knowles—a champion of the general education proposal now before the Faculty—has urged his colleagues to pass final legislation by the end of the term.

While the Core focused on “ways of knowing,” the new report—released this past February—stresses connections between academic study and the real world.

If accepted by the Faculty, the “Empirical Reasoning” and “Ethical Reasoning” categories discussed yesterday would encompass a greater number of disciplines and concerns than Core categories did.

But following the meeting, professors cautioned that the increase in breadth may not be beneficial.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to administer this,” 300th Anniversary University Professor Laurel T. Ulrich said. “My concern is that we’re going to end up with a meaningless system. We haven’t been able to discuss the broad conceptual framework.”

Ulrich is a member of the Faculty Council, the governing body of Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Yesterday’s meeting was a continuation of a regularly scheduled Faculty meeting held last week, at which professors examined the “Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding” and “Culture and Belief” categories.

Before voting on final legislation, the Faculty still needs to address suggested changes to the four remaining proposed categories—“Science of Living Systems,” “Science of the Physical Universe,” “Societies of the World,” and “The United States in the World.”

A meeting has been scheduled for next week to discuss these categories.

Throughout yesterday’s meeting, professors politicked on behalf of their own disciplines, hoping to convince colleagues to make room for their studies in the new curriculum.

Many humanities professors said that language deserved a higher placement in the curriculum in general, and in the “Ethical Reasoning” category in particular.

“Linguistic differences are also important when thinking about ethical reasoning,” Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Virginie Greene said.

Susan R. Suleiman, the Dillon professor of the civilization of France, echoed the importance of studying languages.

“It makes us look very parochial” to ignore foreign languages in the proposed curriculum, Suleiman said. “Harvard thinks of itself as an international institution and yet seems to think that everyone speaks English.”

Anthropologist Arthur Kleinman, a member of the Faculty Council, said that the “Ethical Reasoning” category had to expand beyond the political theory that is the focus of the Core’s Moral Reasoning requirement and include anthropological, psychological, and historical approaches to ethics.

“The study of ethics is not just about theorizing from several disciplines,” Kleinman, who is the Rabb professor of anthropology, said. “It is also about those theories in interaction with the social world, the individual, even biology.”

Unlike Bok, University President-elect Drew G. Faust abstained from all voting. She declined to comment after the meeting as to why she chose not to participate.

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

—Staff writer Samuel P. Jacobs can be reached at jacobs@fas.harvard.edu.