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A team of educators affiliated with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is on campus from today through Wednesday in order to evaluate the quality of the education offered here. As both we and they well know, a Harvard undergraduate education is obviously worthy of the accreditation for which the team is formally seeking information. The courses here are rigorous in their workload, the professors have excellent credentials and the academic atmosphere is intense.
But should Harvard complacently coast on its reputation? Obviously not. The College can improve many aspects of the educational experience here. And, as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz notes, "The evaluation team is helpful to us by giving us suggestions that we might not otherwise have thought of." We hope that the following suggestions will help the NEASC team to pinpoint structural flaws within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for the betterment of all who are or will be on the road to receiving A.B.s and S.B.s here.
* The Core Curriculum, the basis for the liberal education at Harvard College, is a stultifying joke. In theory, the Core does provide for well-rounded students: as President A. Lawrence Lowell, class of 1877, said, we should all know a little something about everything, or at least a little something about how to approach everything. However, the lack of flexibility in the present program herds too many students (sometimes more than 900) into specific courses resulting in class overcrowding, a prescribed scope of study within a subject area and often the disinterest and disdain of students. If Harvard were to move more toward distribution requirements (allowing, for example, any history class to count for the "historical study" category), then Core classes would be smaller, the breadth of education larger and the students more engaged.
* Sections at the College are also problematic. First, sections are just too large. If the idea of section is to provide a format for intimate discussion of the minutiae of courses, the reality is that they serve as a forum for students to rehash their "knowledge" of the readings and lectures when they are called upon. With a smaller maximum number of students in each section (say eight or 10), students would have more time to speak and feel more comfortable discussing their questions on assigned texts. Second, the current training of teaching fellows by the Derek Bok Center fails to teach the TFs skills of instruction such as how to communicate with students or evaluate papers constructively.
* The Administrative Board process is still too private. Campus justice takes place in a Star Chamber of sorts in which the actions that result in discipline are not specified, with only a few examples in the "Guide to the Administrative Board" that do not speak to many Ad Board cases. Moreover, the defendant lacks a true advocate and independent representation. The records of the proceedings are not public and students themselves are urged not to discuss their cases with community members. If the University is interested in promoting justice, then we believe that the outdated pedagogy of the English aristocracy is the wrong way to go about it. This way, the student body has limited knowledge of the punishments meted out for particular crimes and cannot therefore comprehend the seriousness of various infractions beforehand. Neither can we have assurance of the fairness or equality of sentencing handed down by the professors and deans of the Ad Board.
We hope that the NEASC takes the above as starting points in its investigation of the Harvard education. If it does, and if the College feels inclined to follow its lead, then the undergraduate education here will more nearly approximate its prestigious reputation.
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