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Review Sparks Faculty Debate

Professors question general education, study abroad at meeting

By Joshua D. Gottlieb, Crimson Staff Writer

After over a year of closed-door debate, the curricular review was openly discussed for the first time yesterday, when members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) took wide-ranging positions on everything from general education to study abroad.

Yesterday’s meeting of the Faculty saw an unusually long debate, lasting a full hour of the 90-minute-long meeting, despite the still vague nature of many recommendations from the first stage of the curricular review.

Associate Dean of the College Jeffrey Wolcowitz released a report last week with 57 recommendations for a new undergraduate curriculum, bringing to a close the year-long effort of four working groups charged with reviewing the College’s curriculum.

Levin Professor of Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature William M. Todd spoke yesterday of the “spirit of trust that informs the report,” referring in part to the trust placed in students by reducing graduation requirements and granting students more freedom to choose their own courses.

“I thought it was a very positive note, and a positive tone for the discussion, to assume that both faculty and students had it in their best interests to teach the best possible courses and to take the best possible courses,” Todd said after the meeting.

Todd added that Wolcowitz had asked him and two other former deans of undergraduate education—Ford Professor of the Social Sciences David Pilbeam and Chair of the Department of English and American Literature and Language Lawrence Buell—to speak at yesterday’s meeting.

Porter Professor of Medieval Latin Jan M. Ziolkowski commented yesterday on the largely scripted nature of Faculty meetings, saying that opportunities to speak have become restricted in the last decade or so—except in reference to professors who have passed away.

“Eventually the sole way for those on the floor to express themselves may well be to compose their own memorial minutes,” he said, eliciting a round of applause from the Faculty.

Professors spoke yesterday on both sides of issues ranging from reducing class size to the report’s proposals for general education to the report’s suggestion that all students be expected to study abroad.

Pilbeam said the recommendation to replace the Core with a combination of interdepartmental survey courses, to be known as Harvard College Courses, and a distribution requirement put the Faculty’s sense of ownership in the curriculum at risk, since departmental courses would fulfill the general education requirement.

Nevertheless, he said, “the Core has, in a number of ways, exceeded its shelf life.”

Ziolkowski said last night that the introduction of “brand-name courses” appeared to be motivated by factors other than students’ education.

“A major element in the thinking about these courses seems to be the potential marketing of them,” he wrote in an e-mail, referring to the report’s suggestion that the proposed Harvard College Courses be “flagship courses, listed at the front of the course catalog.”

“For me, marketing the courses doesn’t seem very closely related to improving the courses for the experience of undergraduates here,” Ziolkowski said.

Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology Theda Skocpol said the Core already provides ample opportunities for interdisciplinary instruction.

“It would be a shame indeed if the opportunity to teach across departmental lines would disappear,” she said.

Skocpol also said she was concerned about the opportunity cost of the report’s suggestion that small class instruction be expanded.

“I hope that someone has run the numbers,” she said. “I’d love to see how many classes are needed. I think that’s looking at the big picture honestly.”

Professor of Economics David I. Laibson said that while he supports an increase in student-faculty contact, the report’s suggestion of making freshman seminars mandatory contradicted the stated goal of increasing student choice.

Laibson also said that requiring all students to study a foreign language contradicted that goal.

“It arbitrarily prioritizes languages above other modes of internationalization,” Laibson said.

The report was also accused at yesterday’s meeting of prioritizing science education above the humanities.

“The wisdom of the report is to look to the future,” said Associate Professor of the Humanities Virginie Greene. “But there is no knowledge, no wisdom without memory.”

Ziolkowski, who focuses on Latin literature4 of the Middle Ages, said last night that in its focus on science, the report does not mention anything “for a person coming from my neck of the woods.”

“There is no mention of history [and] the mention of foreign cultures is solely in modern terms, so the report has a feeling...of being very engaged with the present-day world but not very engaged with culture, [or] with history in a broader sense,” Ziolkowski said.

The Faculty also heard a report from Professor of International Health Jennifer Leaning ’68 on the progress of Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. The office was created last year in response to the recommendations of a committee, chaired by Leaning, that reviewed the College’s sexual assault policies.

—Staff writer Joshua D. Gottlieb can be reached at

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