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The Quiet Curricular Review

Deans should release working groups' minutes and proposals to students

By The Crimson Staff

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the College’s ongoing curricular review. The basics of Harvard undergraduate education will change, affecting the quality and content of the Harvard academic experience for at least a generation. Yet even though the review’s working groups—on pedagogy, general education, concentrations and students’ overall academic experience—have already turned in their preliminary findings to Associate Dean of the College Jeffrey Wolcowitz, who manages the curricular review, the only thing students and faculty uninvolved in the process have seen is a meager four-page “interim report.” This report is heavy on vague generalities and light on concrete details. The College community needs more before Wolcowitz and Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 release their polished report this spring. We look forward to the final report, but we wish that students and faculty could see the intermediate materials submitted to Wolcowitz before he started writing.

We do applaud administrators’ efforts to elicit student input. The inclusion of a total of eight students on the working groups responsible for making recommendations was one such positive move, undertaken at the outset of the curricular review. More recently, some of those eight students, as well as Gross and Wolcowitz, have held several House visits, soliciting ideas (and running their own by the small groups of students who attend) to include in the preliminary report.

While the administration has taken in recommendations from students, students have yet to learn enough details about what their recommendations have produced. What, for instance, is contained in the working groups’ raw materials that Wolcowitz is assembling into his final report?

Before the working groups reported their recommendations to the Steering Committee, a more clandestine body that has no student representatives, the typical reason for the secrecy of the curricular review was that giving out detailed information might quash innovative ideas before they were fully thought out. Yet now that the working groups’ ideas have been turned over to Wolcowitz, and those bodies’ primary function has come to an end, it is essential that any students who want it should have access to what was discussed within working groups—specifically their minutes and the recommendations they submitted to Wolcowitz and the Steering Committee.

Because of orders to keep curricular review proceedings private, student representatives and other working-group members are not allowed to discuss publicly the particulars of committee discussion. With subordinate members of the review holding their tongues, anything released to the students must come from the top tiers of the review, from either Gross or Wolcowitz.

Other than the ideas contained in the four-page interim report, the handful of students who have attended one of the deans’ House visits noticed sparse mentions of big changes in the wings. Those directing the curricular review should trust students to realize that whatever administrators release is a work in progress. That is, after all, the point of releasing the working groups’ recommendations to the student body: to facilitate a fuller and more open debate about proposed changes. While Gross’s and Wolcowitz’s attempts to garner student input are appreciated, their model is flawed—if they are to elicit the widespread student opinions they should want, they must open up their process and allow working groups to air the ideas they’ve had more than a year to formulate.

What Gross and Wolcowitz should not desire is another preregistration-style debacle, where the administration suggests an unpopular idea only to be rebuked by an angry, mobilized student body. And at least a few topics under discussion in the curricular review have the potential to elicit hard feelings from students. If Gross and Wolcowitz are to propose them, they should do so now, when the curricular review still has a conceptual dynamic, rather than when the Faculty has to consider a polished report.

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