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English Concentration Raises Honors Grade Requirements

By Michael K. Mayo

In a move that some say threatens to undermine undergraduate education at Harvard, the English Department announced recently that it has raised the grade cutoff for students applying to the honors concentration.

Undergraduates applying to the honors English program next spring will be required to have a B-plus average in department courses and will have to boost that average closer to A-minus in order to graduate with honors, according to Assistant Professor of English and American Literature and Language Lydia A. Fillingham '80, next year's English head tutor.

This change is an attempt to fight grade inflation, said Assistant Professor of English Anthony J. Kubiak, assistant head tutor for sophomores.

At the same time, the English Department voted to increase the enrollment size of the sophomore and junior tutorials, while cutting their length to a half-year, to facilitate the large number of honors candidates.

Some members of the department estimated that about 10 to 15 students per class will be denied honors by the end of their junior tutorial. Those students will no longer be permitted to write honors theses.

"One problem is that too many people seem to be writing theses," said Christopher D. Cannon '87, English tutor for Winthrop House. The new restrictions will keep only those interested in rigorous scholarship writing theses, he said. "Otherwise they're a waste of everyone's time."

Some professors have attributed the tutorial changes to a continuing decrease in the number of faculty teaching over the years. Subsequently, they say, the department has attempted to decrease the number of students in the honors program.

In addition, some say, graduate students are also teaching fewer tutorials because they need to spend more time on their own studies.

"The chair got some grant money for graduate students--10 a year now have fellowships--which means that they don't teach," Fillingham said.

"Lack of faculty is part of it," said Kubiak. "There are a lot of students. We want to keep this a quality program."

But one professor, who requested anonymity, said these recent changes are signs that the English Department is moving away from undergraduate education. "Quality is just a rallying cry for not wanting to teach," he said.

"This is no accident," said the professor. He said the increase in grade requirements was "an attrition of responsibility. The senior faculty don't want to teach tutorials. They could if they wanted to."

Associate Professor of English and American Literature and Language Allen H. Reddick, head tutor of English, said, "Anyone can see a trend for themselves, but I don't want to make this more than it is."

Two years ago the English Department voted to decrease faculty members' course load to three courses a year. The rest of their time was to be spent on tutorial, one professor said.

Department Chair Phillip J. Fisher did not return three messages left with his assistant yesterday.

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