Gen Ed Courses Larger Than Hoped

For some involved in the latest curricular review, replacing the impersonal lecture halls of the Core with a more intimate learning environment was a high priority.

But nearly all General Education classes taught in the next few years are likely to be large lecture classes, according to Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Stephanie H. Kenen.

All six Gen Ed classes being taught this semester fit in this category.

One hundred sixty-four students are currently taking Classics Professor Kathleen M. Coleman’s Culture and Belief 17: “Institutional Violence and Public Spectacle: The Case of the Roman Games,” and 110 students are taking English Professor James Engell’s course Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 15: “Elements of Rhetoric.”

Coleman’s class fulfills the Core’s Historical Studies B requirement, and Engell’s course counts toward the Literature and Arts A category.

Some professors teaching newly-designated Gen Ed classes expressed surprise at their high course enrollment.

“I didn’t expect to have as many students as I do in this class,” said Professor Stephen A. Mitchell, who teaches Culture and Belief 16: “Performance, Tradition, and Cultural Studies: An Introduction to Folklore and Mythology.”

Last Thursday, the Gen Ed committee approved 10 courses for the new curriculum—but History Professor Daniel L. Smail’s new course History 1060: “Europe and Its Borders, 950-1550,” may need to be offered as a departmental alternative which can cap course enrollment—rather than a Gen Ed class which cannot—since Smail may not be able to find enough teaching fellows for the high projected course enrollment.

History Professor Charles S. Maier ’60, who teaches Ethical Reasoning 12: “Political Justice and Political Trials,” said that having small Gen Ed classes may not be possible when syllabi are so expansive.

“All people would like courses to be individualized,” Maier said. “Whether Gen Ed will achieve this is another question. It’s hard to be so individual when you have such broad topics.”

Kenen stressed that the large class size will hopefully be only temporary since about half the full slate of Gen Ed classes will be taught next year. How large the course selection will be, however, is unclear at present.

Since all of next year’s incoming freshmen will be required to graduate under the new curriculum, and it will take several years to fully develop the program, freshmen might need to get first priority in taking Gen Ed classes, she added.

As a result of increased demand, only departmental classes counting for Gen Ed credit will be allowed to cap the number of students taking the course at a certain number. Gen Ed-only classes, however, will not be able to cap their enrollment.

“When we don’t have a full slate of courses, we don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘Here’s a course for Gen Ed, and sorry, only 20 people can take it,” Kenen said.

The Gen Ed committee will reach a decision in the spring—when more course proposals arrive—on how to ensure that incoming freshmen have enough options.

—Staff writer Bonnie J. Kavoussi can be reached at kavoussi@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Paul C. Mathis can be reached at pcmathis@fas.harvard.edu.