On the Agenda

Facing the Faculty

Faculty committees are often known for their stultifying dullness, but there are some issues in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) this year that are bound to spice things up--and even affect student's lives.

Here's a brief overview of some issues likely to provoke serious debate this year.

Grade Inflation

The Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE), which is made up of both faculty and students, devoted a great deal of time to discussing the upward trend of College grades last year. Last spring, Dean of Undergraduate Education Lawrence Buell circulated a memo asking departments to talk about the issue and report back to the committee.

So far, committee members are looking at the issue from two angles: grade inflation and grade compression. Basically, the grades' upward trend (inflation) leaves professors a smaller range of acceptable grades, making it difficult to differentiate between students.

Some committee members proposed showing the distribution of grades in a class on transcripts. Others have advocated listing the average grade of a course on the transcripts. Right now these are just ideas, but some kind of action is likely this year.


Last year, the faculty were enraged by proposed benefits changes, which would have reduced the University's contribution to their pensions as well as changing their health care benefits.

After a University-wide task force recommended cutting the pension contribution by one percent and capping retirement health care benefits, faculty members issued a counter-proposal, asking for a soft cap on retirement benefits and the repeal of the pension reduction.

The University agreed to the soft cap, which could allow retirement health care contributions to rise with the cost of health care, but refused to reconsider the pension cut.

Now, a University-wide Committee on Benefits, made up of faculty members and administrators from most of the schools has been formed to monitor benefits and consider future changes.

Teaching Fellow Attendance

Last spring the CUE committee recommended making TFs' attendance at lectures mandatory. The Faculty Council voted to make attendance mandatory, but that vote must now be approved in a meeting of the FAS.

The current version of the "Teaching Fellows Handbook" now reads "it is essential that you attend course lectures."

Ethnic Studies

Jorge I. Dominguez, Thomson professor of government and the chair of the faculty committee on ethnic studies, prepared a report on the subject and presented it to the Faculty Council, which has voted against making ethnic studies a concentration.

The subject, which usually surfaces about once a year, may make another appearance on the agenda for the council this year.

Washington, D.C.

Budget battles in the capital promise to affect the College. Although legislators spared much of the National Institute of Health funding, which funds numerous research grants at the University, other research funding is still threatened. Student aid is also under fire, and current plans to tax universities could cost Harvard more than a million dollars. FAS is already digging out from under a deficit and involved in the Capital Campaign, so the extra money could be hard to find.