Gen Ed’s Future Uncertain, Faculty Wait To Propose Courses

This is the second part in an occasional series on the College’s Program in General Education. Part I ran Sept. 29.

Faculty are hesitant to propose new courses for the College’s General Education program as it enters its final months of review, which could introduce substantial changes to Harvard’s core curriculum, deemed last semester by a faculty report “failing on a variety of fronts.”

That report condemned the program for its lack of identity within the College, its shortage of financial support, and the fact that a large number of department courses could count for Gen Ed credit. And as the Gen Ed review committee prepares recommended solutions, expected by December, faculty are “waiting and watching” before proposing new courses, afraid that they might not fit into the revitalized program, said program director Stephanie H. Kenen.

“It’s an awkward time,” she said.

Perhaps because of this uncertainty, the program has seen a decrease in the number of course offerings this semester, Kenen said. She added, though, that there is usually fluctuation year to year in the number of Gen Ed courses offered.

Kenen said she has discouraged faculty from applying their departmental courses for Gen Ed recognition, since “it looks like those are going away.” The review committee’s report argued that most departmental courses that count for Gen Ed credit—accounting for roughly half of the program’s offerings—were not developed with the underlying principles of Gen Ed in mind.

Kenen and other administrators and professors in the program considered “putting a moratorium” on departmental courses in anticipation of the final recommendations, but ultimately decided to wait. The review committee will likely present the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with a finalized set of recommendations for the future of the Gen Ed program by the end of this semester.

Kenen, who has been involved with the program since it was first implemented, said administrators were relatively lax on what courses could count for Gen Ed because they needed to fill up the program quickly and did not have much money to do so.

“Then there were precedents set, and it was difficult to say no,” she said.

In recent years, though, Kenen said she has seen the quality of proposed Gen Ed courses improve. Faculty say the best courses fit with Gen Ed’s stated underlying goals, which include preparing students to act as citizens, respond to change, understand ethical consequences of their words and actions, and teach students to “understand themselves as products of, and participants in, traditions of art, ideas, and values.”

In general, professors across FAS have agreed with those goals, but take issue with the program’s implementation.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.

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