Faust Hopeful at Faculty Meeting

Meeting tackles Gen Ed curriculum, early retirement incentives

At yesterday’s Faculty meeting, University President Drew G. Faust briefly stepped away from her role as chieftain of the University and assumed her role as historian.

Thursday, she said, is the 200th birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

“Let us take from the inspiration of these two giants,” Faust said. “Let us try to deal with one another with a Lincolnian aspiration to the better angels of our nature and not the Darwinian spirit of...tooth and claw.”

Though the University may not face the perils of disease or warfare, wrangling with a fiscal crisis may pose comparable difficulties, said Faust, a specialist in the history of the antebellum South.

“I think of Harvard living through all kinds of crises, ranging from the Revolution to the Civil War to the small pox epidemics,” Faust mused. “I think this moment ranks up there in Harvard’s historical challenges.”

Though she empathized with departments that have had to slash budgets, Faust said such actions were worthwhile sacrifices to keep the institution afloat.

“We have been entrusted with a very precious resource,” Faust said. “It has preceded us, and it’s our obligation to shape how it’s going to outlive us.”

GEN ED, WHERE ART THOU?

As the Faculty grapples with the financial crisis, the imminent implementation of General Education may be the last thing on some professors’ minds. But Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds issued a plea for more professors to develop new Gen Ed courses—especially in the sciences and social sciences, where she said there are “very few courses: almost nothing.”

“Adding new courses to the curriculum should not be seen as committing ourselves to one more thing in our overscheduled and overburdened lives,” Hammonds said.

The Faculty also overwhelmingly approved a measure that would raise the minimum SAT II score for exemption from the foreign language requirement from 600 to 700 and would give students until junior year to complete the requirement.

Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis—one of Gen Ed’s most vocal critics—expressed his wariness of a normative curricular discussion.

“Do we believe that students are spending their electives unwisely and we should have fewer of them? [Should we] impose our judgment about what is best for them?” Lewis said. “That’s not the way the review of Gen Ed started, but that is the way it has turned out.”

As a result of curricular changes that have yielded more possible requirements, students would end up taking fewer electives—“the unspoken category,” he said.

TIME TO RETIRE?

During the question-and-answer period of yesterday’s meeting, professor of Christian morals Peter J. Gomes approached the podium, righting himself against the wall as he stumbled a little.

He said he had heard that the University will offer a voluntary early retirement program for staff workers who are age 55 and over, and have 10 or more years of service.

“As I look around this room, there are a number of people 55 or older who served faithfully as faculty for at least a minimum of ten years,” Gomes said. “Are there any incentives for us to retire?”

After the Faculty broke into laughter, Faust confirmed that the University is considering such a plan. According to Faust, Judith D. Singer, the provost for faculty development and diversity, has been discussing the possibility of implementing a faculty retirement plan with the deans of Harvard’s schools.

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

—Staff writer Esther I. Yi can be reached at estheryi@fas.harvard.edu.