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Chairs Criticize Gen Ed Report

Minutes reveal support among Caucus for moral and quantitative reasoning

By Evan H. Jacobs, Crimson Staff Writer

Many influential department and committee chairs oppose the lack of moral reasoning and quantitative reasoning requirements in the November report of the Harvard College Curricular Review’s General Education Committee, according to informal minutes of Caucus of Chairs’ meetings.

The absence of moral and quantitative reasoning requirements is part of the report’s general focus on increasing “student choice and flexibility,” according to the report, which was presented to the Faculty in November.

While individual professors and students have criticized the lack of moral and quantitative reasoning requirements, at events such as a Nov. 16 forum for faculty and students and the Nov. 23 meeting of the full Faculty, the Caucus meeting minutes obtained by the Crimson provide the first evidence of how widespread such feelings are within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

“Chairs understood the importance of choice, but maintained that a certain kind of radical or completely unstructured choice abdicates our responsibility as educators,” read the minutes of the Nov. 10 meeting of the Caucus, which was attended by representatives of the General Education Committee.

“[M]oral reasoning and quantitative reasoning are essential in our view,” the minutes add.

The minutes do not attribute comments to individual members of the Caucus, but provide an outline of the discussions that occurred at their meetings throughout the early months of the semester.

When one member of the General Education Committee presented the analogy at the Nov. 10 meeting that offering students a “rich curriculum” without requiring them to take many specific types of classes was similar to offering students healthy food at the dining hall but not requiring them to eat it, the minutes report that some chairs found the comparison to be a “disanalogy.”

“[S]tudents come to university primarily to learn, not to become healthy eaters,” the minutes read. “Chairs maintain that it is our duty to instruct students what it means to be an educated citizen.”

The members of the General Education Committee present at the Nov. 10 Caucus meeting were Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, and Johnstone Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker.

The chairs’ unified stance against the unrestrictive nature of the current General Education report suggests that there may be a strong call at future Faculty meetings for moral and quantitative reasoning requirements to be added into the proposed General Education structure before it is drafted into legislation and approved by the Faculty.

The minutes also reveal that many chairs have worried that the process of approving the new General Education structure will move too fast for serious discussion.

“[T]here is likely to be considerable pressure for speedy review and approval,” the Sept. 29 minutes read. “However, there is [a] need for departmental discussion and feedback.”

A report from the Caucus’ working group on curricular reform to the full Caucus echoed these sentiments in November.

“It was...strongly recommended that the pace of moving forward with changes to the curriculum be slowed down to allow for ample discussion within departments,” reads the Nov. 10 report.

Kirby has yet to present the Faculty with a clear schedule of when he hopes to have completed voting on curricular review recommendations. In a recent interview with The Crimson, he said that he plans to release in the coming weeks an executive summary of the various recommendations and to present legislation on major items to the Faculty by the end of the academic year.

Kirby is expected to meet with the Caucus again in January to further discuss the curricular review.

—William C. Marra and Anton S. Troianovski contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at ehjacobs@fas.harvard.edu.

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