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Vote On Review To Begin In Spring

By Laura L. Krug, Crimson Staff Writer


Crimson Staff Writer

Voting on specific recommendations of Harvard’s third-ever curricular review will likely begin this spring—earlier than previously announced—though several important potential changes will not go through a Faculty vote.

Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby said yesterday that there will be far fewer Faculty votes than proposals.

Although Faculty members are required to vote on any matters that will affect graduation requirements, some of the most controversial proposals of the review—including assigning freshmen to Houses before they arrive and moving toward a more centralized advising system—ultimately rest on the opinions of College administrators.

“It’s really a very small number that would boil down and we would say, those are what would require the vote of the Faculty,” Kirby said.

Professors will vote on the central aspect of the review—changes to the general education requirement and last year’s recommendation to replace the Core Curriculum with a distribution requirement system supplemented by a set of Harvard College Courses.

Likewise, a potential requirement that students take one term of a foreign language, as well as a proposed cap on concentration requirements, both of which came out of last year’s Report on the Harvard College Curricular Review, will require a vote of the full Faculty.

Although that report, which stemmed from a year’s worth of work by four committees, offered a number of specific recommendations, Kirby appointed new committees this year to revise those recommendations.

Johnstone Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker, who is a member of the new General Education Committee, said the group is still concentrating on generalities.

“We haven’t made a lot of progress toward anything concrete,” he said. “We’re still discussing first principles: ‘What should an undergraduate know?’”

Though he said this back-to-basics approach has been “informative for me and it’s good to get back to foundations,” he said he feels there is some sense of redundancy in the work.

“It does seem that we are, in a way, starting over,” Pinker said.

Although Kirby said last month that he hoped to have concrete proposals by the end of the year, the committees are aiming to finish ahead of that schedule.

“The aspiration for all of these committees—and I want to emphasize, aspiration—is to have their recommendations in hand toward the end of the semester, so the faculty can consider them at the end of the academic year,” Kirby said.

Voting would take place this spring and into the fall if more time is necessary.

Kirby said he would like the curricular review to have at least some agenda time at every full Faculty meeting from now until its completion.

Pinker said he is optimistic that the general education group can meet the deadline of the end of the semester.

“I wouldn’t say it is impossible, since there are three months to go,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The pace would have to pick up, and the level of discussion would have to get concrete fairly soon, for us to reach a consensus (or at least a majority) by then.”

Ford Professor of the Social Sciences David Pilbeam, who chairs the Committee on Advising and Counseling, said that group plans to complete their task by January or February.

But, Pilbeam added, coming up with recommendations for advising is less difficult than creating new general education requirements.

“[With] advising and counseling, we can figure out what we need to do,” he said. “It’s not that it’s easy but it’s not a philosophically difficult set of tasks.”

“It’s always going to be general education that’s the big thing,” Pilbeam added.

The General Education Committee of this year inherited its predecessor’s responsibility to develop and plan for a proposed system of Harvard College Courses.

Last year’s report recommends that Harvard shift from the Core Curriculum to a distribution system, in which students will have to take two classes in each of five areas. Provisionally, these areas will be the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, the physical sciences and engineering and international perspectives.

Supplementing the distributional requirement, however, would be the Harvard College Courses, a set of foundational courses in several broad areas of knowledge.

The General Education Committee will be responsible for hammering out and finalizing the areas included, along with such specifics as which current Core classes might survive into the new incarnation of Harvard general education.

As for the Science and Technology Education Committee, member and Professor of Anthropology Daniel E. Lieberman ’86 said they are making “incredible progress” and are geared toward finishing on target.

—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at

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