A Defense of Astro 8


To the Editors of the Crimson:

In today's technologically and scientifically advanced society, there is a fundamental body of knowledge with which everyone should be familiar. Just as it is necessary to know basic physiology and the mode by which each of us came into existence, it is necessary to know the modern theories of the origin of life, the Earth, and the Universe. We should all understand the grand scheme presented by today's model of evolution of matter over a 15 billion year period, from the Big Bang to the emergence of Homo sapiens.

It is precisely this end at which Astro 8 is aimed. The course is a sweeping survey of many different aspects of evolution: atomic, galactic, stellar, geological, molecular, chemical, cellular, neurological, anthropological, and cultural. The course doesn't stop its study of evolution at the present; it also includes lectures on the prospects of the future, including such extremely important issues as nuclear war, energy and food shortage, and genetic deterioration. Knowledge of these subjects is critical to every student's education.

Unfortunately, most students and faculty members are completely ignorant of the structure of the course. Its "gut" reputation persists, despite the revamping of the course over the last few years. Such rumors are perpetuated by narrow-minded people; they are the ones who regurgitate those time worm slogans like "Eliot's preppy" or "Kirkland's for jocks." This narrow-mindedness is clearly exemplified by The Harvard Independent's J. Campbell, who safely restates an accepted but naive public opinion in his article entitled "Last Run for Galactic Gut?" (Harvard Independent, February 5.)

Let me say here the course requirements are not as ridiculously low as they are suspected to be: about 1000 pages of reading. MWF lectures, reasonably difficult midterm and final, and a term paper.


Unfortunately, the Astronomy department has decided to discontinue the course, despite the fact that none of the members of the department has ever audited the course. Instead of considering the educational value of the course, they're concerned about its "gut" reputation. Furthermore, Professor Eric Chaisson, the mastermind behind the course, will probably be asked to leave at the end of the year, unless he is granted tenure.

It is the point of this letter to caution the Astronomy department against making these two grave errors. Besides being an eminent astrophysicist, researcher, and author, Chaisson is one of the superb lecturers at the University. His great abilities as an educator should be considered and landed. Kenneth Bookstar '84