CUE Quandry


T HE SORDID SAGA of the CUE Guide turned another page last month, but a happy ending may be at hand. A proposal that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences cede control of the Guide to the Undergraduate Council offers a long-sought answer to criticisms that have dogged the book almost since its inception.

Following charges that administrators censored the 1985-86 CUE Guide, the student-faculty Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) began a broad review of the perennially controversial publication. The committee is seeking to solve two pressing problems--disagreement over the book's editorial freedom and objections to its official use as a tool for evaluating instructors.

Almost off the cuff, during the CUE's first meeting this fall, Professor of Biology and CUE member Robert M. Woollacott suggested that the Undergraduate Council assume responsibility for administering the Guide. This solution should satisfy all parties by preserving the book as an honest, independent resource, credible in the eyes of its intended readers and useful for its intended purposes. By eliminating the book's quasi-official status, Woollacott's plan should also make the Guide less susceptible to misuse and abuse by the powers that be.

C OMPILED BY STUDENTS, for students, the faculty-funded CUE Guide meets an important demand. By providing well-researched, candid critiques and statistical data, it helps undergraduates choose courses.

Apparently, it also helps Harvard departments and other universities make decisions about promoting or hiring young scholars. The Guide's unanticipated impact on academic careers has made it the focus of intense scrutiny by some faculty and administrators, who have led a relentless if futile crusade to purge subjectiveness from its pages. In the process, they have compromised its value to students, and in their zeal, they now threaten to emasculate the guide altogether.


But removing the Committee on Undergraduate Education's stamp of authority from the CUE Guide cover is only half of the solution. As long as the Guide is the only available source of hard data on instructors, it will remain an enticing reference for departments making hiring and promotional decisions. The underlying problem will remain unsolved until all departments develop standardized evaluation mechanisms of their own on which they can rely with confidence.

A S FOR THE immediate questions confronting the Committee on Undergraduate Education, two proposals earlier described as possible solutions by CUE Chairman and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Steven E. Ozment are actually nothing of the kind.

One alternative is to submit the Guide to official review by a committee of professors and administrators each year. Such a process would merely impart a different bias and cripple the book's credibility once and for all. As Ozment commented, "The first 10 people to exit the T at Harvard Square would be more objective than any committee of the Faculty."

The second and preferable option, Ozment said, is to establish a higher level of mutual respect and cooperation among students and professors and to make the book more of a collaborative effort. Ozment's idealism is admirable, but his solution simply avoids the issue, perpetuating uncertainty as to who really controls the CUE Guide.

A committee of the Undergraduate Council has already indicated its willingness to take on this major new responsibility, and a formal vote by the full council is expected at a future meeting. The crucial unanswered question is whether the faculty will agree to continue funding the annual publication after relinquishing control to the Undergraduate Council--that is to say, whether the faculty recognizes the book's value to students and whether the faculty can face criticism, even when it's true.

If the bottom line is that faculty egos are too fragile to face their faults, then the quest for a course guide will have been in vain.

But if faculty egos are as strong as the CUE Guide might lead us to believe, that quest may soon claim its grail.