Report Outlines ‘Major Proposals’ for Gen Ed Overhaul

New program would feature fewer subfields and maintain quantitative requirement

Harvard undergraduates would be required to fulfill distribution requirements, complete a quantitative-based course, and take fewer general education courses in new, consolidated categories as part of a drastically altered General Education program, should members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences vote to approve a new proposal in the coming months.

University Hall
University Hall, the home of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences administration.

On Tuesday, members of the committee tasked with reviewing the College’s General Education program—previously deemed “failing on a variety of fronts”— will present their final report and “major proposals” for the program following more than 18 months of review. Faculty will discuss the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting—the last of the semester—and likely vote on the proposal, which The Crimson independently obtained, in the spring semester.

The final report outlines a three-pronged vision of the new program. If adopted, students would take four Gen Ed courses from new subgroups different than the existing categories, a departmental course in each of the three divisions of FAS, and an Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning or other quantitative departmental course.

The proposal—which will be presented to the Faculty by Philosophy professor and committee chair Sean D. Kelly—gives no indication as to what undergraduate class could first graduate under the new Gen Ed program.

In order to ensure that the program is implemented successfully, review committee members also recommend that professors be offered financial support for teaching in the program, and that Gen Ed course section sizes should be capped at 14 students with a target of 12. A “good General Education Program will require financial support from the Administration and buy-in from the Departments,” the committee wrote.

Last May, the review committee issued an interim report outlining a series of administrative and structural faults manifest in the existing program, including the unwieldy section size of many Gen Ed courses and the sheer number of courses that count for Gen Ed credit. Perhaps most notably, committee members wrote that program currently has no place in the College’s identity.

These “major proposals” for the new program greatly diverge from the current system, which has been in place since 2009 and requires students to take courses in eight different Gen Ed categories. Ultimately, committee members wrote, they hope to mix three existing Gen Ed aims: to prepare students for “a life of civic and ethical engagement”; to have students learn about a “range of disciplines”; and to allow students to be flexible in their schedules and take courses they are interested in.

THE NEW GEN ED

Under the new program, students would be required to take a breadth of distribution courses across FAS divisions—the natural sciences or SEAS, social sciences, and arts and humanities—and four Gen Ed-specific courses, a mixing of two models that committee members have deemed vital to a student’s undergraduate experience.

In their preliminary report released last spring, committee members wrote that in its current iteration, the Gen Ed program is a “chimera: it has the head of a Gen Ed requirement with the body of a distribution requirement.” In meetings over the past semester, faculty members on the whole disapproved of solely requiring students to take courses distributed across divisions.

The proposed program aims to be different than simply a set of distribution requirements. Faculty and administrators would create new Gen Ed courses for the program—of which Gen Ed courses deemed “successful” in the current program could be a part—and those courses would be separated into a set of four “broadly divisional” tags. These new categories include: “Individuals, Societies, Histories"; “Science and Technology in Society"; ”Aesthetics, Culture, Interpretation"; and “Ethics and Civics.”

Three tags are designed to align “roughly” with the three divisions of FAS, and the fourth, “Ethics and Civics,” would be based off the current Ethical Reasoning category. According to the report, committee members also combined existing categories when creating these new tags: “Aesthetics, Culture, Interpretation” combines the current Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding and Culture and Belief requirements; “Individuals, Societies, Histories” combines Societies of the World and United States in the World; and “Science and Technology in Society” combines Science of the Living Systems and Science of the Physical Universe.

A course can fall under a maximum of two tags, but, just as under the current program, a student can only count each course for one of the four Gen Ed requirements. Ultimately, the courses would all “aim to prepare students for a life of civic and ethical engagement with a changing world,” according to the proposal.

Departmental, or “back of the book,” courses would not count for the Gen Ed Course requirement. Instead, students would also be required to take three “distribution courses” across the FAS divisions of Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences. Courses in a student’s concentration would not count for this requirement, according to the report. Courses from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences could count for the Natural Sciences requirement.

Under the new program, the current EMR Gen Ed requirement would become its own, separate quantitative requirement and take on a similar structure to the current expository writing and foreign language requirements. A faculty committee would craft courses specifically designed for the EMR category, but courses from departments such as Mathematics and Statistics could also fulfill the requirement. The proposal says courses satisfying EMR “would be available at levels appropriate for students with varied quantitative backgrounds.”

AN ADMINISTRATIVE ROLE

In an effort to alleviate the various resource constraints that have plagued Gen Ed, the proposal for the reformed program offers a series of recommendations to improve implementation and administration, stating that a “good” Gen Ed program will require “financial support” from administrators and “buy-in” from departments.

Notably, the proposal suggests that sections in Gen Ed courses should have a maximum of 14 students and a recommended size of 12, which aligns with demands from a graduate student-led campaign begun to decrease section sizes and lessen teaching burdens of teaching fellows. The campaign has received endorsements from many FAS affiliates, including 11 departments, the Graduate Student Council, the Undergraduate Council, and numerous committees and individual faculty members.

The proposal also outlines specific support and incentives for TFs, including training programs, supplemental pay for teaching in the Gen Ed program, and performance awards. Some TFs they feel overworked and stressed from the large pressures on them, and faculty members have acknowledged using Gen Ed courses to hire TFs from their departments.

Further, committee members suggest placing significant resources for technical support, course development, and administration. They also suggest creating a “pedagogical community” for faculty members and teaching fellows teaching in the program.

The proposal concludes by noting the need for departments’ commitment to Gen Ed, stating that searches for faculty positions should “take into account needs of Gen Ed.” The proposal also states that administrators should offer incentives for departments to offer courses in Gen Ed.

—Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at karl.aspelund@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @karlaspelund.

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

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