Concentration courses could count for credit in the College’s revamped General Education program, a distinct change from a proposal introduced last fall, should the Faculty of Arts and Sciences approve a finalized version of the program released Tuesday.
Unlike in a draft proposal from December—which explicitly stated that a student’s concentration courses could not count for a distribution requirement included in the new program—the committee wrote that those courses could now fulfill one of the distribution requirements. This crediting system could decrease a student's course load from a total of 8 required courses in the program to 7.
The recommendations, part of a final report from the committee tasked with reviewing the College’s General Education program, are largely unchanged from those described in a draft presented at a Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting in December. More detailed than the December draft, though, the final report also describes specific incentives and support that would be provided to faculty and teaching staff within the program.
Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris emailed the report to College students, and wrote that FAS faculty will likely vote on the new program later this semester. The current program has been described as “failing on a variety of fronts” and now faces a considerable overhaul.
Under the proposed program, students would be required to take four General Education courses in newly-formed categories and fulfill a distribution requirement by taking courses across the FAS divisions and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Additionally, the College would institute a “quantitative facility” requirement, similar to the current Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning Gen Ed category. The report recommended the formation of a faculty committee to “define the goals of this category in detail,” and said “it also remains possible that a student could place out of the quantitative facility course.” Students would still be still required to fulfill writing and foreign language requirements.
The report also recommends that faculty receive significantly more administrative support if they teach in the program, comparable to the level of support provided to faculty teaching HarvardX courses. The proposal specifically calls for the creation of a Gen Ed-specific IT team, funding to hire a research assistant for course development, a centralized “Gen Ed job listing database” where faculty could find teaching fellows from departments other than their own.
Further, the committee recommended strongly incentivizing the development of Gen Ed courses, suggesting that “one possibility is that great Gen Ed teaching should be a significant factor in awarding Harvard College Professorships,” prestigious positions.
The report reiterates a concern raised in the committee’s preliminary review of the program, released last May, regarding current graduate student funding models. According to the final review, the funding models motivate some faculty to “maximize course enrollments — and corresponding Teaching Fellow positions — as a way to support their Department’s graduate programs.” By contrast, the report reads, other faculty “have challenges identifying and recruiting qualified graduate students to teach for Gen Ed.”
In the May report, the committee specifically identified faculty in the Arts and Humanities division as having an incentive to teach large Gen Ed courses in order to support their graduate students, while those in the natural sciences reported “finding it difficult to recruit qualified teaching fellows, as graduate students are generally funded by grants to support research.”
Faculty have largely praised the recommendations of the review committee, which was convened in the spring of 2014. FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said he is uncertain when a new Gen Ed program will roll out, though he said it “would be difficult” to implement it by next fall, given associated administrative changes.
—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.