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As the curricular review report was released, members of the curricular review working groups expressed mixed feelings about the structure of their deliberations and the deans’ presentation of their findings.
While most students and Faculty involved in the review said they feel the report, which was released publicly for the first time yesterday, was a fair and accurate distillation of their 15 months of work, others said that they were disturbed to see some of their main points omitted as well as some unexpected points included.
In addition, members expressed frustration that the brief timetable of the review precluded the possibility of everyone on the review being completely up to date and in agreement at all times.
In its introduction, the report acknowledged such difficulties and the impossibility of pleasing all parties.
“We have considered a wide range of proposals, and not everyone who has contributed to this review will agree with all of its recommendations,” read the report.
The work of the review was delegated to four separate committees—the Working Group on Concentrations, the Working Group on Pedagogy, the Working Group on General Education and the Working Group on Overall Academic Experience.
These committees, which began meeting late last spring, are not currently scheduled to meet in their official capacity again.
The 50 committee members included Faculty and graduate and undergraduate students, each of whom “had a specific opinion about every single issue,” said Zachary S. Podolsky ’04, a member of the Working Group on the Overall Academic Experience.
The working groups submitted their final recommendations to the deans earlier this month and waited until last Thursday to read a draft of the final report, which was compiled by Associate Dean of the College Jeffrey Wolcowitz.
Working Group on Pedagogy member Joseph K. Green ’05 said some working group members were surprised by certain recommendations presented in the deans’ report—such as its proposal to switch Harvard to a Yale-style housing system. At Yale, first-years are assigned upperclass housing before they start fall semester.
All members of the curricular review received a draft copy of the report last Thursday and were asked to submit their comments by Sunday.
The eight students of the committees convened over that time to compile and submit their suggestions to Wolcowitz together.
“We said we were surprised by the freshman housing thing; we thought that advising hadn’t been worked out to the level of detail we thought it should be; we wanted to see more on peer advising...they incorporated some of it and some of it they didn’t,” Green said.
Green added that the pedagogy committee had spent considerable energy proposing the creation of an institute to study pedagogy, which did not appear in its proposed form in the report.
Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 said Wolcowitz, the principal author of the report, had done his best to be truly representative of the findings of the committees.
“Everything we got, we got from the working groups,” Gross said. “Some of the things we got from the working groups, we couldn’t include in this report because we couldn’t fit everything in. That doesn’t mean we are not aware of it.”
Podolsky said he felt that despite the challenges, the report did give voice to the broad range of opinions coming from the members of the curricular review.
“I know I can speak for myself when I say we felt that given the circumstances of the report, it did an admirable job of representing the great variety of opinions to the greatest extent that is humanly possible,” he said.
But Faculty and students also expressed concern over the structure of the deliberation process.
Green said administrators set a tone for the review from the beginning which has remained essentially unchanged to this day.
“Fortunately, and in many ways unfortunately, you could see the way the review was going from the beginning,” he said.
He added that the overall timing of discussion didn’t help to shift the review in other, new directions.
“The fact that it was only a one-year process made things inherently a bit rushed,” he said. “I know there are some Faculty members and students who are frustrated about that.”
Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies Jay M. Harris also said that the tremendous scope of the review has made it inevitable that the process would be hurried.
“Everything was so quick. Everybody would want more time,” he said. “We were working with quick turnarounds because we have the pressure of the Faculty Council meeting this week and the Faculty meeting next week. I don’t think anyone’s thrilled at the deadlines, but these things happen.”
He added, “I knew that it was impossible to do everything we had been asked to do in a year. Yale did a much more modest review...and it took them two or three years.”
Baird Professor of Science Gary J. Feldman, who is also a member of the Working Group on General Education, said that he wished he had more time to review the report before it went public and that the four days allotted were simply not enough to make meaningful suggestions.
“It gave sufficient time to read it,” he said. “I think the problem was, at that late date, there were not going to be major revisions. The only things that one could comment on were minor points.”
Another aspect of concern was coordination and communication between committees.
Professors said individual issues were for the most part discussed in particular committees, meaning members of other working groups were not necessarily caught up with what was being discussed outside their own areas.
Harris said this was inevitable, given the setup of the review.
“The reality is, that it seems to me if you look at the different committees, it seems like in every issue, you could say, ‘that was discussed mostly in committee X,’” he said. “Both the concentrations committee and our committee dealt with concentration choice timing. Invariably, we discussed some things they didn’t and vice versa.”
Moreover, committee members said that the review’s lack of formal avenues for communication, means that there are issues in the report that many had little chance to weigh-in on.
“I think one of problems with the report was there was not really a real opportunity for Faculty and even committee members to come in at an earlier stage,” Feldman said. “Many of these ideas, they really haven’t had a chance to comment on.”
And the review now faces a new procedural difficulty—gathering responses to the recommendations from the Harvard community.
“I know that the hope is to finish it up in a year,” Feldman said. “It may take longer than that. People need to remember [that] we only effectively have eight full Faculty meetings a year. The amount of time scheduled for Faculty consideration is not that large for a report this broad.”
—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at email@example.com.
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