Faculty Hear Emerging Details on Renewed Gen Ed Program

UPDATED: November 3, 2015, at 11:31 p.m.

For the first time Tuesday, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences together heard emerging details of what a renewed program in General Education could look like in the aftermath of last semester’s release of a report that deemed the College’s foundational curriculum “failing on a variety of fronts.”

The Crimson reported Monday that in faculty town hall meetings over the past month, the committee charged with reviewing Gen Ed has vetted tentative proposals for lowering the number of requirements from eight to four—plus a College-wide quantitative reasoning requirement—and requiring departmental courses to re-apply for Gen Ed recognition.

Faculty Meeting
Prof. Robert A. Lue, left, and Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Peter K. Bol enter University Hall before the faculty meeting on Tuesday, November 3.

On Tuesday, the committee’s chair, Sean D. Kelly, told faculty members that those ideas had been thoroughly debated at those meetings and that the committee would continue to meet over the coming month to further discuss possible changes before bringing an ultimate set of recommendations to the Faculty at their December meeting.

Faculty were also briefed on the details of a potential recommendation that would renew the program’s Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning requirement as a College-wide quantitative reasoning requirement. EMR is a “special kind of category” that is usually satisfied by departmental courses, Kelly said, unlike other Gen Ed categories. At last month’s faculty meeting, University President Drew G. Faust said that, among other skills, undergraduates should be “mathematically literate.”

Kelly, a Philosophy professor, also said that the committee will have to “discuss with the deans” how to finance a revitalization of the program. Findings released in last semester’s report criticized the University for “a lack of financial support, and more general a lack of commitment to the Program.”

The General Education program has not been highlighted as a specific priority in the FAS’s $2.5 billion capital campaign, which is ongoing. In an interview before the Faculty meeting on Tuesday, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said he often talks about the review with alumni and potential donors, but that “we also need to get to a point where we can talk about a more specific program” before beginning more targeted fundraising.

In town halls, Kelly said, faculty supported the notion of increased funding for Gen Ed, especially for faculty developing courses and training teaching fellows for the program. Still, faculty were more divided on other aspects, Kelly added, like the reduction of requirements and the possibility of adding a distributional element to the program.

Kelly’s committee was convened in spring 2014 to review the College’s Gen Ed program five years after its implementation. So far, Kelly has emphasized, faculty and students have raised two main concerns: The program— which the report said includes 574 courses in total—is too large and the program lacks an identity.

The committee has discussed reducing the number of requirements to give students more flexibility with their schedules and allow them to explore electives. “If we want students to become responsible people, then we need to treat them as responsible people,” Kelly said at the meeting.

Few faculty raised questions or concerns about the program during the meeting, though Comparative Literature department chair David Damrosch asked for clarification about specific categories for the program. Kelly replied that there are “some disagreements” within the review committee about how to best approach the categories and potential distribution requirements within the program based on FAS’s three divisions.

In addition to the lengthy briefing from Kelly, Faculty also heard an update on Harvard’s libraries from Sarah E. Thomas, vice president of the Harvard Library, who said the recently centralized library system has launched its own $150 million fundraising campaign.

During the meeting’s standard question-and-answer session, Government professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 also asked Smith if Harvard was “bullying” final clubs, two of which moved to go co-ed this fall. When the Fox Club went co-ed, its undergraduate leadership cited heavy pressure from administrators as a factor expediting the timeline of its transition in a letter to club alumni.

“I will respectfully disagree that we are bullying the fina[l] clubs,” Smith said before deferring to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who has met periodically with the leaders of the unrecognized social groups over the past year, off-and-on criticizing them for their “exclusivity.”

Khurana, for his part, said that “over the past year we have invited our students to engage in conversations” about community and that bullying is “the last thing that our institution would want to engage in.”

Smith also said the Faculty Council—FAS’s highest elected body—voted on Oct. 28 to dismiss an undergraduate student because of “egregious actions” and misconduct. The student, Smith said, has been informed of the decision.

—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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