58 Professors Sign Letter Calling for Faculty Oversight of edX

In letter to FAS Dean, professors express excitement, concern about edX

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UPDATED: May 25, 2013, at 12:23 a.m.

Fifty-eight professors from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences requested in a letter Thursday to FAS Dean Michael D. Smith that he appoint a faculty committee to draft “ethical and educational principles” that would provide a framework for FAS engagement with HarvardX, the University’s curricular contributions to edX.

The letter, shared with The Crimson by one of its signatories, asks that those principles be brought to a faculty vote in the 2013-2014 academic year.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that HarvardX is consistent with our commitment to our students on campus, and with our academic mission,” the letter reads. “Given the rapid pace of development of HarvardX, we believe it is essential to have a formal, sustained, and structured faculty discussion on these issues as soon as possible.”

FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in an emailed statement that Smith is committed to working with faculty members interested in developing HarvardX courses, but he also wants to assure faculty members that they will remain free to choose how they structure the courses they teach.

“Dean Smith looks forward to continuing the ongoing dialogue with these and other members of the FAS faculty,” Neal wrote. “Free inquiry and spirited debate is at the heart of any university’s mission.”

The call for greater faculty oversight at Harvard comes amidst a period a rapid expansion for edX, the online educational platform founded through joint $30 million investments by Harvard and MIT last May. On Tuesday, edX announced 15 new member-schools across the globe, more than doubling its size and bringing its total membership to 27 institutions.

The letter stated that one year after the launch of the rapidly expanding venture, “some faculty are tremendously excited about the potential of HarvardX; others are deeply concerned about the program’s costs and consequences.”

The faculty first extensively discussed HarvardX as a body at its monthly meeting last December, and a number of professors have voiced concern about the project in recent months. Most recently, at the May faculty meeting, a number of professors have questioned what they described as Harvard’s rapid advance into online education. That debate, which was part of a larger conversation about the faculty’s relationship with administrators, centered around what several professors called a lack of meaningful consultation on the development of HarvardX.

“We appreciate the meetings, town halls, and other arenas in which faculty have been able to discuss HarvardX. But we believe that many critical questions about the relationship of the FAS to HarvardX, and to edX, have not yet been addressed,” the letter reads.

Signed by former deans, members of the Faculty Council, and several University professors, the letter was also sent to University President Drew G. Faust and Provost Alan M. Garber ’76.

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @npfandos.

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