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Paring Down the Core

New curricular flexibility moves toward important improvements in study abroad

By The CRIMSON Staff

Many students want to do it, many have found it too difficult, but the University is finally making it easier for students to leave Harvard. Last week the Faculty’s Standing Committee on the Core Program passed new guidelines that will liberate students from one Core requirement for every semester of credit they earn abroad. Students may also apply for exemption from the Foreign Cultures requirement on the basis of a summer or partial term spent studying overseas. This welcome policy will make study abroad more feasible.

Since the establishment of the Office for International Studies last year, along with the streamlining of the application process and the efforts to develop more Harvard-accredited programs, more students have been electing to spend a semester or two at overseas institutions, indicating the latent demand for study abroad. By giving students more flexibility, the committee’s reduction in requirements is a further step in the right direction of making study abroad an attractive option, rather than a logistical nightmare.

But, there are still more steps that need to be taken by the Office of International Studies to make sure this advance in curricular flexibility is enhanced by supports in other areas. The moves that have been taken to develop a Harvard-affiliated—instead of simply Harvard-approved—program in study abroad in Chile are encouraging, and we hope that with the success of that effort, more such programs will be created so that students will have a wider array of choices when considering studying overseas. The University should also be more flexible about schools in Britain and elsewhere that work on the trimester system, and give at least some credit for a trimester of work at such institutions. And the Office of International Studies should encourage departments to be more flexible in allowing their students to get credit for international course work as well; the Core’s flexibility will be beneficial for students, but it must be accompanied by similar departmental support for out-of-residence study.

Furthermore, while the new policy allowing Core exemptions is much needed, it contains some inconsistencies. Under the current plan, Core exemptions are capped so that students can be exempt from no more than two requirements on the basis of their study abroad. However, students studying abroad can apply for an exemption from the Foreign Cultures requirement in addition to exempting one Core requirement per semester overseas. This policy has the contradictory result that a student spending one semester away from Harvard can exempt Foreign Cultures and another core, but should they choose to spend two semesters overseas, they will still be allowed to exempt only two Core requirements. The Core Committee should address this confusing policy so that those who choose to pursue longer study abroad programs are not put at a comparative disadvantage.

The recognition by the Committee on the Core Program that experiences gained through study abroad are more valuable than fulfilling Core requirements indicates the uselessness of the Core, and the need for its elimination in the upcoming curricular review.

In the meantime, the Committee on the Core Program has taken steps in the right direction by making it less of an obstacle to study abroad. Now the Office of International Study should capitalize on this change to both promote study abroad options and support those students who choose to take advantage of them.

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