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Neither Dean May, nor, in fact, anyone in Harvard College claims the ability to foresee the outcome of the new curriculum re-examination proposed yesterday. But, even at the outset, the forces operating against its success are imposing.
Coming from the dean of the College's office and not from a Faculty directive, the study is a one-sided proposal and carries no official weight, as does, for instance, the Fainsod report. Thus, after it is completed, Dean May must lobby for it within the Faculty, solely on the merits of the recommendations and the arguments in favor of them.
But combining the recommendations of several House committees must be considered a major problem in itself, since the impetus for reform has come from several groups holding very different views of education.
Any attempt to unify these views may easily degenerate into a hodge-podge of compromising half-steps-manifested in a general report that comments on Harvard education but makes no recommendations, or a set of specific, yet conflicting proposals that follow no cohesive pattern.
Still, even if the curriculum discussions break down in confusion, the areas of concern which May has outlined are comprehensive and define the problems that Harvard education will eventually encounter in the next decade.
These areas include:
What is the role of General Education? Given the increase in General Education in secondary schools, should Harvard insist on Gen Ed courses or simply return to distribution requirements?.
Are non honors concentrations worthwhile or should students be allowed to "concentrate" in General Education?
Should Harvard change from a basically liberal arts college to include specialized and vocational education?
Should Harvard be a four-year experience or can the residency requirement be more flexible?
What is the relationship of academics to political problems?
What place should "artistic," action-oriented, or vocational programs have in the curriculum, should "extracurricular" activities like Institute of Politics seminars be accredited?
What is the Faculty status of persons who teach special "vocational" courses as opposed to those who teach "academic" courses? Should students teach undergraduate courses?
What is the role of research in the University?
Given the financial limitations of the University, how should priorities be determined? SWJ
Dean May proposed a complete re-examination of Harvard undergraduate education yesterday, calling on students and Faculty in Harvard Houses to develop specific recommendations for revising all aspects of the curriculum.
Comparing the study to a similar report on "General Education in a Free Society" in 1944, May said it was the first major re-examination of educational policy in 25 years and possibly equal in importance to curriculum revisions under Harvard Presidents Lowell and Eliot.
Among the issues open for discussion, May said, are the General Education program, concentrations, honors programs, four-year residency requirements, and any new proposals for experimental courses and teaching techniques.
In his first major recommendation as dean of the College, May released a seven-page memorandum to Harvard and Radcliffe House Masters, House committee chairmen, dean of Freshmen and the president of the Freshman Council urging them to initiate an "open-ended" discussion of curriculum policy.
May said the burden for developing new programs will fall to students and Faculty through House discussions. He has asked each House to come up with written recommendations which May will then collate and present to the newly-created Committee on Undergraduate Education.
In a press conference yesterday afternoon, May said he assumed department faculties and representatives of Harvard professional schools will also enter the discussions, both to counter-balance undergraduate suggestions and to give an indication how the new curriculum might be received by graduate school admission offices.
"I expect this study to have an impact on American education and higher education everywhere," May said. The study is part of the process of "periodic self-renewal," he added.
The proposed curriculum study grew out of several influences including the April student strike, in the Harvard community, May said. "It is clear that there is dissatisfaction among students, and a good deal of open-mindedness toward consideration of change among the Faculty," he said.
"Dissatisfaction twists the emphasis," Mare J. Roberts '64, assistant professor of Economics who aided May in drawing up the memorandum, said. "People I have talked with say this is just a good time to rethink the issues."
Dean Ford at the same time expressed guarded optimism over the possibilities of the study. "My positive reaction is thatit puts serious argument back where it belongs in the curriculum, "he said." A lot of students are not taking curriculum seriously and Dean May is right to suggest a certain urgency in this study."
Both May and Ford said they hope specific curriculum legislation will come before the Faculty this Spring. after it completes debate of the Fainsod report on restructuring.
The proposed study initiates a new concept in Faculty reform. Unlike other major curriculum reforms. typified by the 1944 General Education report. the proposal comes from the office of the dean of the College- not the Faculty itself- and does not call for a centralized review committee.
"Some people have suggested it's over- ambitious and they may be right." May said. "There are many complicated issues."
"Since so many administrative decisions raised these issues implicitly, it was time to raise them explicitly," Roberts added.
After replacing Fred L. Glimp as dean of the College last summer, May said he would give top priority to possible curriculum reform.
As a member of the Faculty, May is one of the first deans of the College in recent time to initiate academic changes. Dean Ford, however, said it was the role of the dean to "stick-up" for undergraduate curriculum and represent the interests of the College in the Faculty.
In circulating the memorandum. May pointed out "I am well aware that a request from the Administration, calling for discussion of reform. may be greeted with skepticism in some quarters."
"I cannot of course promise to implement, or even to support, any and all proposals issuing from the Houses." he continued. "I cannot promise to implement them since in most cases I would have no power to do so... I can, and do, however, pledge my best efforts to insure that any recommendations developed by the Houses will get full and fair hearing before the Faculty."
Because of the expansiveness of the study, May declined comment on specific revisions which he expects to have enacted.
Roberts, however, spoke for the Administration in saying "If we thought that we would come out the same place we are now, we would be a little less eager."
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