Faculty Votes In Favor of New Course Credit System, Gender Neutral Housing

UPDATED: May 6, 2014, at 7:45 p.m.

Starting in the fall of 2015, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will adopt a course credit system that will convert current half-courses in Harvard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences into four-credit courses and open up the possibility for a wide range of new course offerings worth fewer than four credits each.

The new policy was approved by a voice vote by the members of FAS at their monthly meeting on Tuesday, where the Faculty also approved a new College honor code and changes to the school’s policy regarding gender-neutral housing. There was no debate or discussion at Tuesday’s meeting regarding either of these two topics, both of which were also unanimously supported by the Faculty Council.

Graduation requirements will remain virtually unchanged under the new policy. Undergraduates, currently required to complete 32 half-courses, will be able to obtain the 128 credits needed to graduate by enrolling in and passing four courses each semester.

The new system of accreditation will be launched alongside the Student Information System, a centralized software platform which will be used to track student enrollment. That software is designed with course credits as its default metric. Reconfiguring the program to use half-courses instead would be both time-consuming and expensive, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris said in the April meeting of the Faculty.

Conversion to the credit system resolves a number of other pragmatic concerns, according to Harris.

“Our course unit system complicates our ability to meet the reporting requirements, since the government bases its benchmarks and standards on a credit system,” Harris said in an interview in April.

In addition, the half-course system is difficult for employers, other institutions, and loan officers to understand, FAS Registrar Michael P. Burke said in an April interview. The new system would solve this complication by aligning Harvard’s practices with those of most peer institutions as well as other schools within the University.

With the switch, the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid will no longer have to convert the College’s course units into credits when it reports information to the U.S. Department of Education, according to Burke.

Although current half-courses will be converted to count for four credits each, the new system presents the possibility for an array of new course options that do not conform to the standard model. These new courses could span different time periods than just a semester or full year, such as labs, quarter courses, and J-term courses. While FAS currently offers a few “less-than half” courses, this policy change will allow the College to better track these courses, granting professors more freedom in their class design.

The Faculty also approved a change to the Harvard College Handbook for Students that offered new language concerning gender-neutral housing, transitioning the existing pilot program into a College-wide policy.

The change strikes existing language that says that “[...] the College ordinarily requires single-gender living arrangements. Thus, the Office of Student Life may, in consultation with the Houses, permit mixed-gender rooming groups in certain circumstances, such as to accommodate students with a gender-based need (i.e., transgender students).”

Instead, the new policy will allow rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors to request mixed-gender rooming groups conditional upon all occupants voluntarily agreeing to the arrangement. As with all rooming inquiries, the new policy states that these requests will be managed by the House administrator “on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all circumstances, including space constraints,” according to the proposal.

I look forward to the day when all students across this campus can go into their Houses and form gender neutral housing arrangements without having to go through major hurdles,” Undergraduate Council Vice President Sietse K. Goffard ’15 said.

The new policy change comes after the conclusion of a two-year gender-neutral housing pilot program in a set of Houses. Last fall, 85 percent of undergraduates who participated in the annual Undergraduate Council presidential election voted in favor of a referendum that called for gender-neutral housing options across all Houses at the College.

The Faculty approved this change along with several other updates to the Handbook on Tuesday, including clarification regarding hazing that incorporates language from the Massachusetts Hazing Statute to the College Policy on Hazing as well as details regarding “drugging” from Massachusetts state law.

—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at dev.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @dev_a_patel.

—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at steven.watros@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.

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