Improving the Core

The Crimson Staff

Core reform has been one of the most consistent concerns of undergraduates ever since the program's inception more than 20 years ago. From Undergraduate Council platforms and published criticism to casual lamentation, students have repeatedly petitioned for an overhaul of the aging program.

Each year scores of students express some form of discontent with the Core, targeting its sparse selection, often esoteric or shallow content and poorly prepared teaching staff.

In this light, the Faculty's recent commitment to rejuvenate the Core--reflected this semester in the addition of a handful of attractive new offerings and a few new department substitutions--are a welcome step in the right direction.

But these slight changes meant nothing to the hordes of disappointed students who waited outside of the Fogg Museum of Art trying to get into Historical Studies B-61, "The Warren Court and the Pursuit of Justice." Or to the scores of frustrated students who might be lotteried out of Science B-29, "Human Behavioral Biology."

The fact of the matter is that despite the talk of rejuvenation, there are only three course offerings this term in each of the Historical Study A, Historical Study B and Moral Reasoning areas. Even worse off are students who don't speak French or Spanish, as they have a "choice" of two Foreign Cultures Core classes this term.


Nor will these "reforms" do much to alleviate the feeling of helplessness when faced with an ill-prepared teaching fellow. Or the confusion when first-years--who have to declare their concentration in the spring semester--realize they have spent precious time in watered-down Cores meant to "introduce students to the major approaches to knowledge" rather than more useful departmental offerings.

What the College fails to understand is that "Core reform" entails much more than simply adding a few classes here or there. It means more than offering excuses when asked why there are still only eight Moral Reasoning classes this year.

Students have repeatedly offered suggestions to improve the Core. Make proficiency in a foreign language count for Foreign Cultures credit. Restore AP exemptions for the Science Core areas. Allow a substantial number of department classes to count for Core credit. Or just eliminate the Core entirely and replace it with distribution requirements.

These are all among suggestions we've heard before. And that's what's scary. For the class of 1999, which has spent the last three years asking for change, these "reforms" are too little and come much too late.