Review To Suggest Core’s Replacement

Report will recommend the creation of broad-based Harvard College courses to help fulfill a more flexible distribution requirement

Stephen P. Bagg

Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, who is leading the curricular review, stands in front of his honorary degrees from Chinese universities in his University Hall office.

For 25 years, the Core curriculum has served as the cornerstone of a Harvard College education.

For nearly as long, it has been widely maligned.

A Crimson poll conducted in December found that 38.3 percent of students believed that reviewing general education and the Core was the most important issue to be addressed in the current curriculum review, which Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) William C. Kirby kicked off in October 2002.

Advising, the second-most popular student choice, received about half as many votes as a curricular review top priority in that poll.

When the leaders of the review present recommendations for curricular revision to the Faculty early next month, they are likely to recommend replacing the existing Core with a more flexible distribution requirement.

Under the proposal, students will be required to fulfill a set of distribution requirements either with departmental classes or a set of general education classes open to all students—somewhat like those in the Core—called the Harvard College courses.


But these may not be mandatory—students will likely be able either to take departmental courses or the Harvard College courses to fulfill general education requirements, Kirby says.

“It has been suggested that the Harvard College courses will be one means of fulfilling a general education requirement, but not the only means,” Kirby says.

He adds that the new Harvard College courses, unlike the Core, will be “foundational or integrative in nature.”

The new curriculum would try to cross academic disciplines, perhaps by encouraging Faculty members to co-teach various courses, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 says.

The Core’s organization by “modes of thought” will be replaced by an organization based on foundational knowledge of certain disciplines, professors say.

The new organization will be a simpler one, from all accounts—the Harvard College courses will likely be divided into fewer areas than the Core now includes.

Gross says the new requirements, whose categories have not yet been determined, will be more “open” than the Core. But he adds that popular Core classes will have a place in the new curriculum.

“Many [Core courses] are among the great courses in the history of Harvard, and whatever format general education takes in the future...the commitment of the Faculty to courses such as have been developed in the Core inevitably will be part of it,” he says. “These courses will surely not disappear.”

In other words, it will be proposed that the Core curriculum that has served Harvard for over 25 years be replaced by a more flexible distribution requirement in which a body of freestanding, extra-departmental classes will still be available to any student.