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Administrators leading the College’s ongoing curricular review met with about 20 students in Currier House’s Strominger Room last night to discuss proposed changes to the core curriculum.
Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and Associate Dean of the College Jeffrey Wolcowitz, two of the three administrators charged with oversight of the review, also talked with students about a proposed January term, or “J-term,” and the dearth of student-professor interaction at the undergraduate level.
A call for more relaxed core requirements dominated much of the conversation. Students named the three different Literature and Arts requirements and the obligation for humanities concentrators to enroll in “fake science courses” as specific grievances.
“The requirements are oppressive, but I don’t think that’s a problem with requirements, but only with these specific requirements,” said Divya A. Mani ’04, who is also a Crimson editor. Mani added that she thought students should still be expected to know certain specific facts.
But Gross said that the core will likely move in the opposite direction, away from a strictly delineated canon.
“Where we’re moving in the review is probably towards a more open distribution requirement than the core,” he said.
In shifting towards broader categories of studies, Gross said one potential change would reorganize the core under headings such as “Science and Math” and “Literature and Arts.”
Gross also addressed concerns that in eliminating “core classes” as they are currently conceived and requiring instead that students take departmental courses that fall under certain broad categories, many classes designed for non-concentrators in those fields would simply disappear.
“Magic of Numbers would never exist” without the core, Gross said, referring to the Quantitative Reasoning class he teaches.
Yet he added that he believes “the successful courses in the core will remain.”
In considering the core, Michael C. Mitnick ’06 asked Gross and Wolcowitz to bear in mind that “the more electives that are available to students, the better,” arguing that student discontent lies with “a lack of choice, and being forced to take classes they don’t want to.”
Students also discussed the introduction of a J-term between semesters, which has been presented by administrators as one potential way to synchronize academic calendars throughout the University and to ease cross-registration in graduate courses.
Gross said a J-term would allow students to pursue in-depth study in a field of their choice, and proposed starting classes before Labor Day and finishing the term earlier to free time for the extra term.
He added that students would not necessarily be obligated to participate in the J-term all four undergraduate years, but would be allowed to opt for an extended winter break one or two times.
Gross also outlined plans to increase the number of Freshman Seminar offerings and possibly even require that every first-year enroll in one.
Yet he noted that a high level of student-professor interaction is difficult to achieve at a place like Harvard, where other responsibilities limit the time and attention professors can devote to undergraduates.
“They are supposed to be editing the main journals and speaking at the main conferences” in their respective fields, in addition to fulfilling obligations to graduate students and their families, Gross said.
—Staff writer William C. Marra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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