After months of attempts to hone in on a modern vision for general education, the Committee on General Education appears to be nearing consensus.
The committee, one of six in the ongoing Harvard College Curricular Review, met in full last Friday for the first time this academic year to discuss a new draft report on general education circulated among the committee members last week. Several members of the committee, christened the “Gang of Five,” met throughout the summer to compose the new report, laying the intellectual and practical foundations for undergraduate education at Harvard.
The draft report recommends replacing the current Core Curriculum’s 11 fields of study with three broad disciplines—Arts and Humanities, Study of Societies, and Science and Technology—and requiring students to take three courses in each of the two areas most different from their concentration. The report also outlines year-long “portal” courses that students could take to fulfill the requirement for one of the three areas, according to a copy viewed by The Crimson last month.
Committee members insist that the report is still in a process of revision before it can be released to the full Faculty, but several said they are hopeful that a final report will be submitted soon.
“There is another round of work to be done on the document but I think that will happen fairly quickly,” said Bass Professor of English and American Literature and Language Louis Menand, one member of the “Gang of Five.” “I would assume in a week or two there will be a document which will be more publicly circulated and people will start to weigh in on it.”
Others feel that significant work remains for the committee before a report can be released. Committee members are now in the process of submitting critiques, which may take time.
“Nothing really came out of the meeting,” Johnstone Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson on Friday. “We’re still circulating drafts and decisions about it haven’t been made yet.”
Watts Professor of Music and Professor of African and African American Studies Kay K. Shelemay emphasized the importance of procedure, saying, “We need to follow a process so that the committee does issue a report and the Faculty has something to respond to.”
A main concern is the committee’s ability to agree on the type of general education that undergraduates should receive.
“The committee was really sort of two slightly incompatible mandates in terms of what the general sentiment was,” Menand said. “One was to get a system which had more student choice and freedom with the feeling that the Core was felt by some students to be too confining. The other desire was the desire to provide something that was sweeping and rigorous that would give students a foundation for knowledge.”
“One of the problems that the committee had to solve was to have a philosophy of general education in which both of those alternatives could be embraced,” he said. “That’s really what a lot of the writing this summer was about.”
While the “Gang of Five” met in person only a few times over the summer, e-mails were circulated regularly and several authors contributed to the draft report, which is significantly longer and more thorough than the much-maligned report released to the Faculty Council last March.
“The committee will release the document when it is happy with it, which I think will be soon because the changes are not substantive,” Menand said. “I think [the changes] will have more to do with the way the recommendations were presented.”
Whenever the 16-member committee releases the report, the document will have to undergo scrutiny first by the Faculty Council, and then by the Faculty as a whole, before being implemented.
“I won’t hazard a guess but do hope we’re near consensus,” Mallinckrodt Professor of Engineering Sciences and Geophysics James R. Rice wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson yesterday. “It seems that way to me, although some signs are ambiguous.”
—Staff writer Allison A. Frost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.