Committee Delays Gen. Ed. Report

Originally slated for spring Faculty vote, report is pushed to next autumn

After receiving criticism that their recommendations for the ongoing College curricular review were too vague, the Committee on General Education has decided to postpone submission of a final report to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, according to Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, who chairs the committee.

As late as February, Kirby had said the report would be ready for a faculty vote by the end of the semester, but it now appears possible that the final version will not be submitted to the faculty until this fall, after the committee has reviewed suggestions from other committees, or even later.

“The consensus was that we should continue to gain feedback from those with whom our draft summary report has been shared before issuing it, and very possibly an expanded version, as a final report,” Kirby wrote in an e=mail.

The Faculty Council, the Educational Policy Committee, and the other curricular review committees received the draft recommendations in early March.

The recommendations call for students to take a mix of departmental courses and interdisciplinary “Harvard College Courses” to satisfy their general education requirement.


Kirby wrote that he saw the report as a suggestion for the “radical simplification of our requirements for general education.”

While Kirby has acknowledged that revisions to the current draft will be necessary, it remains unclear how those revisions will be carried out and when they will be finished.

“We’ve kind of reached the end of our road,” said General Education committee member Louis Menand, who is also the Bass Professor of English and American Literature and Language. “I have heard nothing about another meeting.”

He said he “would not feel upset” if the committee was asked to continue work on its proposals, but added that a new committee might be formed next year.

The current Committee on General Education is the second body to look at the issue. The General Education Working Group concentrated on the topic during the 2003-04 academic year.

Another committee member, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker, said that he would not be opposed to further revision within the committee. “My personal view is that it would be appropriate for us to meet again,” he said.

Since the recommendations were released in March, there has been criticism that both the Harvard College Courses and the recommendations as a whole are too vague.

“I don’t think the report in any way is complete,” said Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Tom Conley, who chairs another curricular review committee, the Committee on a January Term.

The report needs “more than just fine tuning,” Conley said.

Members of the Committee on General Education acknowledge that the report does not have the detail that some were expecting. They point to this as a result of their desire to simplify the College’s general education requirements. “[The Committee] explored quite different models, including those with many more requirements, but in the end opted strongly for what it believed to be a simple and flexible model,” Kirby wrote.

Menand suggested that the committee also may have left the report lacking some details in their desire to leave some specifics up to the Faculty.

“In the end the committee thought the best thing was to put a row of empty bottles up there and see how the faculty wanted to fill them,” said Menand.

But now, facing criticism for its excessive vagueness, the committee may have to provide more substance before they submit a draft for formal faculty review.

-Sara E. Polsky contributed to the reporting of this story.

-Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at