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Exposing the Core

By Susan C. Faludi

UNDERGRADUATES CAN EXPECT "the great unveiling," as some Faculty members have aptly coined the announcement of the 1979-80 Core Curriculum, within the next few weeks. Dean Rosovsky's Standing Committee on the Core will soon finish approving courses for next year. But students can only guess what lies beneath the veil. The committee, under Rosovsky's direction, kept the development of the courses under wraps. By maintaining maximum security on the committee's proceedings, the committee has ensured that students play an insignificant role in creating the Core Curriculum.

Two students do sit on the Standing Committee. Each of the five subcommittees (representing the five areas of the Core) also have two undergraduate members. These students, however, have non-voting status on the committees. Rosovsky argues that the status is meaningless because the committees rarely take formal votes. If this is the case, one wonders why the students are barred from voting.

Furthermore, the student members are not permitted to discuss any aspects of the proposed courses with fellow undergraduates. The committee members can therefore only hazard conjectures as to which possible Core offerings students might support; they are hard pressed to act as legitimate representatives.

ROSOVSKY CLAIMS he never intended for these students to serve as representatives. "This isn't a matter of democracy. These students aren't holding a political office," he said last week. "They are there to provide student input."

But the student committee members are indeed chosen--at least indirectly--as representatives. At Rosovsky's request, the Educational Resources Group (ERG) elected these students from its ranks. ERG members, in turn, are elected yearly in the Houses. Conveniently ignoring this selection process, Rosovsky insists that students on the Core Committees should just express their ideas and not try to act as spokesmen for the student body. If Rosovsky just wanted random ideas, he could have bypassed ERG and picked the members arbitrarily.

At any rate, the student members uniformly call themselves representatives. Maxime S. Pfeffer '81, one of the student members on the standing committee, said last week that the committee rules impose restraints that continually handicap her ability to serve as an effective delegate. "It's so frustrating when you can't communicate any information to your constituents. Our hands are tied," she said.

Although Daniel T. Berman '79, the second undergraduate on the standing committee, agrees that committee policy hinders his representative role, he understands Rosovsky's desire for confidentiality. Berman stated, "It's the same problem with Congressional committees--they leave to take the pledge of secrecy on national security issues."

Berman failed to observe that Rosovsky's group is not a congressional committee; the Core does not affect national security. Allowing students to consider proposed Core courses before they are approved will hardly endanger lives.

Rosovsky counters, however, that making Core proposals public may endanger reputations. Confidentiality, he says, protects professors whose course suggestions the committee rejects. This attitude appears overly protective. As Berman said of his experience on the committee: "If there is one thing I have learned in the past year-and-a-half it's that above all Faculty members hate to be embarrassed. You've got to indulge them so they don't back out and just not offer the Core course."

According to Berman similar reasoning explains why no information has been released about the 38 courses the committee approved earlier this month. Berman explained, "Rosovsky thought it might look like we liked those courses better and the other professors might get offended." It begins to sound as though the committee is coddling sulking preschoolers, not working with distinguished adult scholars. The committee should place the Core's welfare--secured by encouraging broad discussion--above professors' tender egos.

The student body should clearly have a voice in this discussion. Many Core courses are based on existing introductory departmental and General Education courses. Students who took these courses--and almost all have large enrollments--can offer valuable suggestions as to how the Faculty might strengthen the classes. Such advice could ensure that the Core program avoids the floundering and lack of direction that plagued Gen Ed, its ill-fated predecessor.

Rosovsky's final line of justification then for discouraging student involvement--that the Core will not affect students now enrolled--also proves illogical. This same argument might be applied to the Faculty with equal validity. Professors who will retire next year, assistant professors who will not receive tenure and professors who don't plan to teach Core courses are also unaffected by the Core. Should Rosovsky have barned them from the Faculty debates on the Core Curriculum last year?

How then to involve students? Rosovsky points out that students can't reasonably expect the committee to put the proposed slate of courses up for a referendum at this late date. Once the Core committees have selected their courses they are unlikely to alter willingly their choices in response to students' objections. But Rosovsky fails to acknowledge that students should have participated when the committees began drafting and debating possible courses earlier in the year.

Next year the committee must produce yet another slate of Core courses. This time, they should encourage meaningful student involvement, perhaps through concentrators' committees. These departmental panels could evaluate Core courses in their field and suggest new courses. Pfeffer said these "little research groups" could assist and fill in the gaps in the Faculty subcommittee's work.

EVEN IF ROSOVSKY persistently keeps the Core committee proceedings confidential, the departments' student panels would at least provide undergraduates with a channel for expressing their recommendations for the Core. The process could be facilitated by using the departmental student-faculty committees mandated by this year's Faculty reforms to oversee tutorials--for that purpose.

Rosovsky knows that educational leaders throughout the nation are keeping an eye on the great anveiling. This consideration, Pfeffer said, prompted the committee to design several new courses that specifically fit the Core's temets. In future years, as the Core fades from public view, the Faculty's critical approach to Core courses may fade. The Core might evolve--or devolve--into another Gen Ed. Pfeffer stressed. "Nothing is stopping the Core from deteriorating after this first splash. New courses must continually be developed--And students are one of the best sources for that task."

The Carmegie Commission on General Education in 1977 declared general education "a disaster area." The Faculty, facing this formidable precedent, would do well to use all the intelligent advice it can muster. Dean Rosovsky can hardly afford to shrug off the opinions of students, who will ultimately render the last judgment on the Core.

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