The Core Matures...

During the early days of April, 1978, 2400 angry students signed a petition calling on the Faculty to delay a final vote on the Core Curriculum. Joining proctors and members of the Faculty, the students said Dean Rosovsky's proposed "revitalization" of undergraduate education would prevent any flexibility in their selection of courses in an attempt to create the definitive "renaissance man." One irate professor went so far as to call the implementation of any new program a presupposition that Harvard was not "doing right" by its students already.

Earlier that spring, a Crimson editorial had attempted to focus objections to the Core. "A major problem with the new Core Curriculum is the attempt by its authors to delineate carefully the structure and content of ... core courses. Whether Faculty members will be willing to teach the types of courses outlined in the report is not clear; the Core proposal might well set up the type of lecture courses that no one likes to teach, and no one likes to take."

But the proposal passed the Faculty 182-65, and student uproar, for the most part, died down. Now, as the end of the Core's second year, members of the University community accept the Core as a 'way of education.' Core administrators express optimism about their project, but, more significantly. Faculty and students seem increasingly enthusiastic about both teaching and studying in Harvard's educational experiment. At least to some extent, all three groups defend the Core, and say its critics --and the Crimson's 1978 predictions--were wrong.

The major concern of the Core administration over the past year has been developing enough courses to meet the original goal of 100 catalogue listings by 1982. People like Rosovsky and Edward T. Wilcox, assistant dean of the Faculty and director of General Education, proudly point to an increase in the number of course proposals submitted as the most significant indication of their success. "What I am most happy about is that the number of courses has increased steadily," Rosovsky says. Wilcox adds, "I had figured that voluntary Faculty teaching in the Core would have decreased, but instead there is considerable enthusiasm.

Actually, Faculty members teaching in the Core during its first year last spring expressed confusion about the stringent Core guidelines, and doubts about how effective the guidelines were in producing the ideal Core courses. Robert C. Chapman, professor of English Literature, who teaches Literature and Arts A-11. "Theatre and Drama," called the goals of the new curriculum "high falutin'," adding he hoped his course was "within the limits of what the Core people wanted."


These days, perhaps because the guidelines--which regulate every aspect of a course, from its general approach to its reading list--have become more familiar, Faculty members still complain of the difficulty involved in preparing a Core proposal but seem less reluctant to give it a try. Per Nykrog, professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, says he agreed to offer a course, Literature and Arts A-23, "Realistic Novel and Social Consciousness in 19th Century France" only after "they asked me to," but echoes many other Core professors when he adds, "I look forward to presenting my field to people who do not specialize in it, but encounter it as a portion of their general educational background." Roy G. Gordon, professor of Chemistry and chairman of the subcommittee on Core science, elaborates: "It gives us an opportunity to address broad issues without the constraints of fitting into a sequence of departmental courses." he says.

Probably the administrative aid in course preparation provided this year by the Gen Ed office has influenced Faculty attitudes. According to Wilcox, the office now has "start-up money." for slides and "all the other folderol that goes into the creation of a course." The help is welcome--one of the Core's worst problems during its first year stemmed from the difficulty of organizing that "folderol," Emily D. Vermeule, chairman of the Literature and Arts subcommittee says.

Now, to explain the enthusiasm of professors about the Core, Vermuele joins other subcommittee chairmen in the use of one word. "The whole process is somewhat smoother this year," she says.

"It's working better in some areas than others," Wallace T. MacCaffrey, chairman of the Historical Studies Committee, explains. Citing the perennial History department faculty shortage, he adds, "We have a short term difficulty in Historical Studies, which is that most of our courses will not be offered until the year after next. And since we don't have as many courses as we'd like to, we're all a bit worried that the courses we do have will be packed."

Similar problems may crop up in the Moral Reasoning area, committee chairman James Q. Wilson says. "I think we are going to run into a fairly serious problem here because there are so few people who are able to teach it," he says, noting that those few professors familiar enough with the ephemeral combination of law and philosophy that constitutes Moral Reasoning could leave on sabbatical at any time. The problem of over-enrollment in the few remaining courses does not worry Wilson, but they do trouble Wilcox. He estimates that the average size of a Core course is about 160, and the larger the course, he says, the more logistically complex it is to organize. Last year, teaching fellows were so hard to come by that professors were forced to look to instructors from outside the University for help.

But Rosovsky downplays the importance of an intimate classroom. Although President Bok in 1978 listed allowing undergraduates more personal interaction with their professors as one of the aims of the Core, Rosovsky says "I don't believe that small is beatiful. I've always said that I'd rather be in a large bad class, than a small bad class."

Richard Marius, whose Expository Writing program is not officially part of the Core but who is a member of the Core Standing Committee, says he hopes to focus the Core on the needs of individual students by more closely affiliating it with Expos. By encouraging students to submit papers they've written for Core courses to their Expos teachers, he believe students can get more individualized attention and "show students that the kinds of things we are trying to do will help them in the rest of the University." Some professors have been reluctant to permit dual submission because they feel they would be "letting students get away with something," but Marius says he has managed to "attract some Core teachers into our net."

But despite these and other changes in the program, probably the most significant developments since 1978 have occurred not within the Core but without it. Unlike the 2400 petition signers of three years ago, students today accept Core courses as a part of Harvard life. Like reading period and Union food, some students find the Core more difficult to deal with than others. But the majority of undergrads, and especially freshmen, seem unfazed by--at least apathetic to--the new requirements. One freshman, who says her friends called her "core-woman" this year because she took eight Core courses, says, "I enjoyed all of my courses but I didn't really feel that they were something different. After all, they didn't appear out of a vacuum, but came mostly from the departments themselves." After a moment of thought she adds, "I certainly don't feel like a "Renaissance man.'"