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Bok: Core Is Faculty Priority

Bok lays out active agenda in first faculty meeting of the year

By Evan H. Jacobs and Anton S. Troianovski, Crimson Staff Writers

Welcomed by a standing-room only crowd of professors and a teary dean, Derek C. Bok yesterday presided over his first Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting as interim president and put the College’s curricular review at the top of the FAS agenda.

With Bok’s life-size oil portrait on the wall to his left, the veteran Harvard president took up his gavel for the first time in 15 years. Although he is expected to leave his post by mid-summer, Bok laid out an active agenda for the academic year. He said the administration would work to become more transparent, propose a master plan for the new Allston campus, and move to integrate science research across the University.

But Bok said the long-awaited overhaul of the Core Curriculum—given fresh momentum earlier this month by the release of a new general education proposal—should be the Faculty’s top priority.

“Nothing, nothing, would please me more,” Bok told the nearly 200 professors in the room, “than you bringing this review to a tremendous conclusion in my last year of academic administration at this institution.”

Knowles, choking up, introduced Bok by saying the Faculty was “privileged and grateful that Derek agreed to be recalled to this venerable place.” Professors responded with extended, rousing applause.

The meeting was marked by lighthearted banter from Bok that was in contrast with, and sometimes in reference to, last year’s tense showdowns between professors and then-University President Lawrence H. Summers.

Introducing question period—the venue that disaffected Faculty members used to launch their biting attacks on Summers—Bok said: “We now come to the most hazardous part of the program, at least for me, if not for you.”

There were laughs, but no questions.

The most pointed comments of the 90-minute meeting were on a report released over the summer that called for more University resources to be directed toward science and to integrate research across the University.

Arthur Kleinman, chair of the anthropology department and a member of the Faculty Council, the FAS governing body, said he supported the plan but urged more discussion.

“This report calls for an asymmetrical development of this University and this Faculty, with science and engineering receiving a great deal of resources,” Kleinman said. “The result of action based on this report will change the nature of this Faculty and this University, and we need to be clear on that.”

Bok gently countered Kleinman’s point, arguing that an expansion of the sciences might be warranted because faculty growth in those disciplines has lagged behind the humanities in recent years.

Knowles, for his part, was attending his first Faculty meeting as dean since he stepped down in 2001. He led a short discussion of FAS finances informed by his letter to colleagues last week, which cautioned the Faculty to prepare for a possible $75 million budget deficit in 2010.

James Engell ’73, chair of the English and American literature and language department, asked Knowles whether the terms of restricted-use funds could be changed to meet new needs in a time of tightened budgets.

“I frankly don’t see how to spend this money,” Engell said of some of the restricted funds in the English department.

Knowles acknowledged that the terms of many funds “are often sadly inappropriate for current use,” but told Engell that administrators were working “essentially continuously” to find legal but creative ways to use restricted money.

Bok said that the next Faculty meeting on Nov. 14 will have only one item on its agenda—the preliminary report released earlier this month proposing an overhaul of the Core.

In an e-mail last night, Bok, who led Harvard during the College’s last curricular review, said he looked forward to the meeting.

“[T]he faculty discussions of the Core Curriculum in the 1970s were the most interesting of my entire 20 years as President and came closest to representing the ideal intellectual discourse that one would hope to find in a great university,” he wrote.

—Daniel J.T. Schuker contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at ehjacobs@fas.harvard.edu.
—Staff writer Anton S. Troianovski can be reached at atroian@fas.harvard.edu.

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