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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

All Elite Concentrations Accept As Many Students as in 1976

By Peter R. Melnick

The five selective concentrations--History and Literature, History of Science, the Comparative Study of Religion, Social Studies, and Visual and Environmental Studies--have each accepted roughly the same number of students this spring as they did last year.

The Faculty Council charter that established the concentration of the Comparative Study of Religion limits to ten the number of concentrators that program may accept each year. The other four "elite" majors impose their own limits, based on budgets and resources.

The Comparative Study of Religion program could accomodate 13 or 14 students per class if the charter did not restrict it, William A. Graham Jr., head tutor in the Religion program, said yesterday.

"Everyone who applied to the Religion department this year, with one exception, was certainly acceptable," Graham said.

The program's faculty committee accepted eight of its 14 applicants, leaving two spaces open for transfer students and other fall term applicants, Graham said.

Amanda T. Segal '80, a History and Literature concentrator, said yesterday that although she was pleased the committee had accepted her, she had reservations about any selective preogram.

"Everyone at Harvard is part of an elite, so people in limited concentrations are sort of the elite of the elite," Segal said.

Gary F. Mathias '80, one of 75 students who were not admitted to the Social Studies department, said yesterday he felt the yearly cost of tuition should entitle students to concentrate in whatever field they want.

Mathias said he considered the selection process to be arbitrary. "I don't think it's right that a ten-minute interview with a grad student should decide my academic future," he added.

The Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) recommended in April that the Faculty Council open up the elite concentrations and rely upon the stringency of department requirements to limit the number of concentrators.

Francis M. Pipkin, associate dean of the Faculty and CUE chairman, said yesterday the CUE recommendation addresses only the problem of arbitrary selection.

The recommendation does not functionally open the elite concentrations up to more students, however, because the budgets and resources remain the same, Pipkin said.

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