The Book of Joseph
Two weeks ago, I went to Sunday at the Park with George at the Loeb Theater. It was an excellent show about the brilliant and obsessive artist George Seurat. But I noticed that although the audience was only around 50 percent white, the cast was about 90 percent white. Indeed, of the seven student shows I have attended at Harvard, only one has had more than one minority cast member—the freshman musical.
I had never been a big fan of theater until I got to Harvard and started attending wonderful student productions that made me think more deeply and profoundly about life. But being more invested has also made me more conscious of the racial dynamics. As a South Asian, it bothers me that there aren’t more people who look like me on the stage. Although theatre is universally meaningful, this skewed makeup of the performing corps makes it seem less so.
2011 was the 375th year of Harvard College, but it was also the fourth year of the Harvard College Program in General Education. The former anniversary was celebrated with a massive cake, but the latter may hold more significance for students. The new Gen Ed requirements have calcified a trend of seeking applicability instead of meaning out of the undergraduate education, a trend that betrays the ideals upon which Harvard as a college was founded. Pre-2007, this mentality was already pervasive in the actions and priorities of students, but now it is actually endorsed by the University. As one of the last cohort of students fulfilling their general requirements under the Core Curriculum instead of Gen Ed, I worry that the Core hasn’t been mourned enough. The Core provided a good education, and its trendy, 21st-century, interdisciplinary, “useful” replacement is an unwelcome change.
From the ’40s to today, college-wide undergraduate requirements have swung from being philosophical to applicable. In 1979, the College moved from mandating that students take courses in social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences to mandating courses in seven of eleven disciplines. Then-Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Henry A. Rosovsky oversaw the creation of 70-odd specific “Core” courses that were independent of any department. Then, in 2007, the faculty voted to move to Gen Ed, which requires students to take classes in eight general categories of learning. At the time, On Harvard Time joked that the curricular review committee had just used a “thesaurus.”
The popular press is obsessed with the idea of elite college students going to Wall Street. Just last week, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote that elite students are still going to Wall Street because their liberal arts educations have left them with no marketable skills. Thus, businesses swoop onto campus and snatch up these confused children. They market their contract as a risk-free Excel boot camp. At worst, students spend two years working at a breakneck pace with one hell of a business card to flash at high school reunions.
The conversation shows no signs of ending because despite the national scorn heaped on the financial sector during the past year, students are still going to work there. The New York Times reported that 17 percent of Harvard students, 14 percent of Yale students, and 35.9 percent of Princeton students from the class of 2010 went into the financial sector. We can quibble all we want about these figures, but they do suggest that more students are going into finance careers than who actually like finance.