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Lewis Tells Class of '05 to 'Slow Down'

By Garrett M. Graff, Crimson Staff Writer

In a new letter that was recently mailed to members of the Class of 2005, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 advised entering students to “slow down,” and concentrate on the quality of their college experience, not the quantity of it.

The seven-page missive—the first of its kind to incoming students from Lewis—is entitled “Slow Down: Getting more out of Harvard by doing less.”

Lewis offers advice on everything from why students should take a semester off while in college to why students should be cautious about joint or special concentrations. He also recommends that students participate only in one “major” extracurricular activity—like a sport or publication—and one “minor” activity—like smaller clubs and community service groups.

Lewis also suggests that students not start new groups but work within existing groups to change them, since few new groups last beyond their founders’ graduation.

He says that too often students become over-committed between athletics, clubs, arts and classes and are stretched too thin to appreciate other aspects of the college life.

“The human relationships you form in unstructured time with your roommates and friends may have a stronger influence on your later life than the content of some of the courses you are taking,” he wrote.

Acknowledging that it may appear “hypocritical” for the College to offer advanced standing or joint concentrations at the same time he’s recommending students not necessarily accept them, he says he is wary of choices that limit the flexibility of students to pursue other academic interests or broaden their knowledge base.

While he notes that there are exceptions to all of his suggestions, he emphasizes that college should be a time to enjoy and explore—not work endlessly to prepare for a future job or to bury oneself in schoolwork.

Lewis says the letter sprang from a discussion on advising during a meeting of the Committee on Undergraduate Education. He said that midway through the discussion, he realized that often the advice given by the College has been incorrectly focused.

“Rather than training advisers on how students can concentrate in 3 subjects simultaneously while graduating in 3 years and also fulfilling pre-med requirements, we should be encouraging students, and advisers, to take a step back and ask whether it really makes sense to try to do everything simultaneously, and whether those students wouldn’t do better to slow down and do a smaller number of things more deeply,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

Lewis said he has not yet decided whether his letter will be an annual offering to incoming students, since he wants to hear some reaction to the letter.

“It is basically a personal letter stating my own views, and those views have evolved, and will continue to evolve, as others point things out and help me think,” he wrote in the e-mail.

In addition to being mailed to all members of the Class of 2005, the letter will also be available on the College website, possibly as early as today.

—Staff writer Garrett M. Graff can be reached at ggraff@fas.harvard.edu.

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