Rotten to the Core

IT was quite a week for the Core Curriculum.

By the time shopping period was over, the controversy surrounding Core lotteries had alienated students in practically every year and garnered more headlines in the Crimson than the changes in the freshman housing lottery. Unfortunately, to students hoping to enroll in a number of popular Core courses, this news was just as grim as the housing verdict was to freshmen.

Consider the following exercise in Core logic: Professor of Anthropology Irven DeVore, forced to limit enrollment of Science B-29 (commonly known as "Sex"), decided to cut 75 juniors from the class because he considered it a "freshman-sophomore course."


The reasoning seems strange. What criteria, one wonders, are used to categorize Core courses as "freshman-sophomore" courses? Level of difficulty, perhaps? Number of required readings? And isn't the Core supposed to be a section of the curriculum that permits any student to take any course offered, regardless of year? That priority seems to have gotten lost somewhere.

An even better example of incomprehensible decision-making comes from the "Lotteries Working for You" file. On Wednesday, the last day of shopping period, Gleason Professor of Fine Arts Seymour Slive informed the sophomores in attendance at Literature and Arts B-25, "Rembrandt," that they were no longer welcome in the course. Many sophomores, however, had attended the three previous lectures without any expectation they would be axed. In fact, several had already turned in their study cards that morning before class.


One explanation Slive gave for singling out sophomores was that juniors and seniors would not have a chance to take the course again. But he also indicated that freshman were favored over sophomores because they were possible Fine Arts concentrators. Likewise, Professor DeVore had also remarked that Science B-29 was "practically a requirement" for anthropology concentrators.

THE faulty reasoning taking place here becomes evident after scanning a small red pamphlet entitled, "Introduction to the Core Curriculum: A Guide for Freshmen." In particular, the guide states that "by design Core courses are different from those offered by the departments" and that "in choosing Core courses you should, at an early date, take courses in one or more of the subdivisions [of the Core] that seem most remote from your present interests."

If this is truly the case, then why does it seem that Core professors, when forced to choose among students, tend to select the ones that are looking for Cores related to their concentrations? The answer is unclear.

Perhaps the most remarkable--and most ironic--lottery of this shopping, period was the one held for Lit. and Arts B-71, "Jazz," which continued this semester's trend of overcrowded Literature and Arts B courses. More than 1000 students, or one-seventh of the student body, showed up for the first meeting of "Jazz," a course that was actually a departmental offering, Music 30, last year.

Although Assistant Professor of Music Graeme Boone limited the enrollment in "Jazz" to 400, he gave preference to juniors and seniors, which is the only sensible way to run a lottery. But the fact that students swarmed to a slightly modified version of an introductory level departmental course reflects badly on the Core as a whole. It indicates that Core courses are not as different "by design" as Core officials had hoped they would be.

WHAT, then, can the Core do to eliminate the massive overcrowding which strikes both individual courses and entire Core subdivisions, notably the current offerings in Lit. and Arts B?

By devoting time and effort to the development of new Cores which students will find truly interesting, along with constant review and even elimination of less popular Core courses, the directors of the Core Curriculum can achieve a more evenly balanced program that will fulfill its original purpose: to give Harvard students valuable and interesting exposure to the major areas of study outside their fields of concentration.