Turning An Idea Into A Core

Professor of Music Thomas F. Kelly, whose Literature and Arts B-51: "First Nights: Five Performance Premieres" is a recent and very popular addition to the Core, says that his course began of a similar combination of academic interest and Core feasibility.

"When I came to Harvard, they asked if I had any ideas, and the course began with the idea of putting music in its cultural and aesthetic context," Kelly says. "They said 'Great, now write it up.'"

After lunch, your next step would be this 'write-up'--a letter to Dominguez summarizing your course's aims, with a few notes on possible lecture topics, readings and coursework.

"This letter is an idea that hasn't been transformed into a proposal, just an idea with a few details attached," Lewis says.

The committee chair then responds, in writing or in person. In the case of "Goats," this feedback might include criticism of your intention to require a 30-minute claymation film on Armenian goat herding as a final project.


Loeb Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology David G. Mitten, whose Literature and Arts B-21: "The Images of Alexander the Great" came into the Core four years ago, says that this was the first step in a beneficial process of review for his course--"the suggestions made simply improved the course," he says.

Step 2: Proposal

After reviewing Dominguez's feedback, you would then convert "Goats" into a formal course proposal for the eyes of the Historical Studies subcommittee.

This proposal would look much like a course syllabus, with a list of lecture topics week-by-week, coursework requirements, reading assignments and section topics.

"A firm proposal is a crucial step, because it means working out the course in [the professor's] own mind, coming to grips with what their intent is in the course," says Literature and Arts subcommittee chair Richard J. Tarrant. "After this, the rest is to some degree just logistical and bureaucratic."

Your "Goats" proposal would then be considered by the Historical Studies subcommittee, and comments and criticisms voiced in this closed-door meeting would be relayed to you in a letter from Dominguez. Students chosen by the Undergraduate Council participate in these meetings, but do not vote.

As a tenured Faculty member, you will find the Core subcommittee's review of "Goats'" academic aims and methods will probably be more rigorous than any departmental course review--probably more rigorous than any academic review in your entire career as an instructor.

Dominguez says that this sort of rigorous review results about one-fifth of the time in angry Faculty members.

"It's usually some form of 'How dare you? How dare you tell me how to teach my course?'" he says. "It's traumatic to have your view questioned, and most departments have no oversight whatever. This means a lot more luncheons."

Professor of Yiddish Literature and Comparative Literature Ruth R. Wisse, whose Literature and Arts A-48: "The Modern Jewish Experience in Literature" is a recent addition to the Core, says the review process can also be beneficial for new Faculty.

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