Students: Gen Ed Implementation Key

Undergrads say that course development will make, or break, Gen Ed reforms

Following the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ approval on Tuesday of a new general education program to replace the Core, undergraduates involved in the curricular review stress that its true success will depend on the thoroughness of its implementation and the role that students will play in the process.

“Undergraduate involvement is absolutely essential over the next few years to ensure that adequate resources are dedicated to the development of exciting courses,” Undergraduate Council President Ryan A. Petersen ’08 said.

The legislation passed Tuesday states that student representatives must be appointed to serve on the Standing Committee on General Education, the yet-to-be-formed group that will oversee the transition from the Core to the general education curriculum.

Many of the logistical questions surrounding the new curriculum have been left to this committee, which will be appointed this summer and replace the Core Standing Committee in summer 2008.

Paul B. Davis ’07-’08, who contributed to a collection of student essays written in 2005 on the purpose and structure of a Harvard education, said that “the devil is in the details” when it comes to defining the new requirements, such as the degree to which departmental courses will count towards general education requirements.

“I suspect that the recommendation itself will prove far less important than how it is actually implemented,” Davis said.

The amount of attention professors give to developing new courses is particularly critical to a successful implementation, according to Tracy E. Nowski ’07, who has served as a student representative on the joint student and faculty Committee on Undergraduate Education this year.

“There’s going to need to be a new cadre of classes,” Nowski said. If professors only “change a line or two of their syllabus,” then students will only end up with “a Core by another name,” she said.

Though groups from across the campus were engaged in the process of developing the general education curriculum, the length of the process—beginning over four years ago, in October 2002—has made it difficult for undergraduates to develop a sustained interest in the process, according to the undergraduates interviewed.

“The issues have been under discussion for a long time, and it’s difficult to keep students engaged for four years,” Petersen said. Nowski also mentioned that student discussion ebbed and flowed as the curriculum underwent multiple drafts.

Though Petersen expressed frustration that students were not initially included in the General Education task force upon its creation last June—Petersen and Limor S. Spector ’07 joined in September—Petersen and the other undergraduates said they were pleased overall with the attention Faculty members gave to undergraduates involved in the review.

Spector mentioned that she noticed in the Faculty meetings she attended that professors “weren’t talking about [general education] for their own purposes,” but spoke instead about what they thought was best for students.

“Just the fact that they were approaching it in this way has to benefit students,” she said.

—Staff writer Brittney L. Moraski can be reached at bmoraski@fas.harvard.edu.