Profs Criticize Curricular Changes

Reduced concentration requirements, first-year advising arise as issues

More than 60 professors gathered yesterday to discuss the need for more faculty advising and for caps on concentration requirements as proposed by Curricular Review committees.

Though the professors who spoke echoed the need for some change, they disagreed on its nature and scope.

The sharpest criticism came in response to the Educational Policy Committee’srecommendation to limit concentration requirements to 12 half-courses, regardless of whether or not a student intends to graduate with honors.

Kemper Professor of American History James Kloppenberg, who moderated part of the discussion, argued that the change would give students more time to study abroad and pursue interdisciplinary courses.

Other professors, however, expressed concern that this would allow students in some concentrations that currently require more than 12 courses to graduate without having studied a subject in sufficient depth.

“If you have a concentration that’s very broad, it makes it difficult to get that depth,” said Baird Professor of Science Gary J. Feldman after the meeting.

Some of the faculty also took issue with the Advising and Counseling Committee’s call for more faculty advisers and for every freshman to eventually have a non-resident adviser in addition to a proctor.

Noting that the current number of faculty advisers is “just over 30,” Ford Professor of Social Studies David Pilbeam, who chairs the advising committee and co-moderated yesterday’s meeting, said he hoped to see an effort to recruit more of them.

“I think it would be important for us to discuss the collective collegial obligation that we are all involved in academic advising in some way,” he said.

But Professor of Government Lisa Martin said she believes undergraduates would be better served with faculty advising “further down the chain”—once they have already chosen a concentration. In the interim, Martin said, students are looking for more general advice—such as what math course to take—than most professors can provide.

The Educational Policy Committee also recommended allowing freshmen not to declare a concentration until the middle of sophomore year and altering the structure of concentration requirements like the tutorials that require some students to stay on campus during their second and third years.

Taken together, the committee’s recommendations reflect an aim to give students more flexibility to pursue interdisciplinary study and experiences abroad, as well as to broaden the scope of undergraduate education.

“One of the outcomes of the recommendations is to liberate the freshmen for the exploration” of a broad range of study, said Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, who is leading the review. “That’s not flexibility for flexibility’s sake; that, in my view, is what a liberal arts education should be about.”

On the issue of advising, Pilbeam said his committee would probably call for a new Dean of Harvard Advising Programs who would be charged with “coordination, initiation, planning, [and] sharing of best practices.”

He emphasized that the proposed Advising Programs division is “not in our minds as an advising center” where students could turn for help.

Pilbeam also said the committee was not prepared to offer any recommendations on the possibility of assigning freshmen to upperclass Houses, which would give them access to the Houses’ advising resources.