Time To Reform the Core

The present institutional structure of the Core stands apart from its purpose, which is to ensure that students are "broadly educated" and are introduced to "approaches of knowledge that the Faculty considers indispensable to undergraduate education." The Core fails on its own terms as well as by standards of liberal education. So it is unfortunate-no, it is inexcusable that the recent reform process undertaken by the Core Review Committee (CRC) and headed by University Professor Sidney Verba '53 has failed in its mission to reform the Core.

Departmental bypass are the key element necessary to reform the Core. Even the otherwise-misguided CRC believes they are a good idea. The question, then, is a matter of degree. After a great deal of prompting by students, the CRC has espoused the opinion that the Core program should allow more departmental classes to count for Core requirements so that students are not limited to the meager number of choices that they now have. While we agree that there is a lack of options for students in the current Core program, there is a more substantive reason for allowing non-Core courses to count for the Core requirements.

Some departmental courses do the Core's job better than the Core. These are often courses that the Core program has rejected. Take, for example, the survey courses History 10a and 10b, which seem to be natural candidates for the History A Core requirement. These classes, which provide a considerable breadth of knowledge as well as a solid introduction to the methods of historical study, were turned down for the most peevish of reasons: They didn't precisely fit the description of the Core divisions Historical Studies A or B. This leads us to believe that the Core administrators, rather than fostering a "broad education," are more interested in their own parochial program.

The most ridiculous thing about the Core program is that it does not allow students to take more substantive and difficult classes than are offered in the Core program even when they want to. The CRC says that departmental courses are too advanced for a novice in the field and that introductory courses are directed at concentrators. To the former claim, may we say that students here are not so stupid as to dive into a course for which they are ill-prepared unless they are willing to put in extra work. To the latter claim, we ask what better way is there to attain the varied approaches to knowledge than to survey a field's theoretical canon.

Beyond the Faculty's nominal concern that students not be smothered by departmental curriculums, the CRC voices qualms that a Core program with departmental bypasses would go the way of the General Education Program. The CRC Working Paper of Feb. 28 states that a Core with departmental bypasses will fail because of "no incentive for faculty to commit to the extra burdens of preparing and teaching Core courses."


What incentive there is now to teach a Core class, namely the opportunity to teach a great many students a great many things about a field from a particular perspective, would still exist under a Core with significant bypasses. If a student were allowed to take an introductory psychology class for biological science credit, might it not be a popular class that even senior Faculty members might devote their time to? If they were not so interested, might not the Dean of the Faculty attempt to persuade them to do so, either through the Core or outside of it? It seems that the only loser would be the Standing Committee on the Core; would its loss of power be a bad thing for Harvard education?

The CRC seems determined to retain the iron cage of the Core program despite students inside clamoring to get out, wanting to learn more than the Core teaches them. It seems ironic to us that the Faculty's decisions are rooted not in a pedagogic desire to inculcate students with a solid liberal arts education but rather in a perverse need to maintain a failed system for the sake of the system itself. Beside increasing student choice, departmental bypasses will allow increased learning. The Faculty should be more concerned with student education and less concerned with bureaucracy.

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