Rosovsky Letter Advocates Debate, Educational Reform

Reiterating a theme he has addressed many times in the past two years, Dean Rosovsky states in his annual letter to the Faculty that education reform is needed at Harvard particularly in the non-concentration areas of the undergraduate curriculum.

Rosovsky writes that "the curriculum for undergraduates at Harvard no longer expresses clearly our basic educational aims and it does not establish a common basis for intellectual discourse."

The letter, released today, is intended as an update of Rosovsky's 1974 Letter to the Faculty on Undergraduate Education--the so-called "Yellow Letter"--and as an introduction to the soon-to-be-released reports of his seven task forces on undergraduate education.

Since Rosovsky first outlined in the Yellow Letter what he perceived as the failings of undergraduate education at the College, his task forces "have concluded their investigations and made provisional recommendations for change," Rosovsky writes. "The present moment seems appropriate to indicate the major themes that have emerged in our deliberations," he states.



One of the primary task force conclusions that Rosovsky mentions is the need for Harvard "to reformulate the non-concentration portion of our curriculum" by both "specifying the content (of that education) and constructing the machinery to implement it."

Rosovsky deals with the task force's recommendations--though only in general terms--in order to initiate "a constructive debate of the issues (when they finally come up before the Faculty), not merely a battle between those who favor the status quo and those who oppose it," the letter states.

All curricular task force recommendations will have to be discussed and approved by the Faculty before they can be implemented, a procedure which could take several years.


Sources in University Hall said last week that Rosovsky revised the letter several times and discussed it with the Faculty Council before sending it out last week in order not to offend anyone by the tone of the letter or when the task force proposals are discussed.

In the letter, which is much more optimistic about the possibilities for educational reform than was the Yellow Letter, Rosovsky touches on problem areas discussed by the task forces since 1974 including General Education, curricular requirements, diversity of the student body and the contradiction of purposes between teaching and research.

Among the questions that Rosovsky raises in his letter, which he says will be addressed in depth by the task force reports, are:

The curricular consequences of a homogeneous undergraduate student body in which students come to the College with different backgrounds and strengths;

The specific requirements that the College should use to create an "educated person" when backgrounds are so diverse;

The balance students should achieve in their studies here between specialization in one field and a general and rounded education, and

Student dissatisfaction with certain noncurricular aspects of life at Harvard--such as lack of contact between students and senior faculty members or the lack of any sense of community in the University.

Though the letter points to deficiences in the Harvard system of undergraduate education Rosovsky said last week he thinks it nonetheless will be heartening to the Faculty and will bring about some change.

"The proof that this document isn't empty is that if you read it and if you agree you have to also see that certain changes are necessary," he said. "You just can't say 'yes' and then leave things the same."

Rosovsky also said, "I'd like to feel that we are giving so good an undergraduate education that people would rip the doors down to get in.