General Education Report Verges on Pre-Professional

Your Nov. 14 article (“Faculty to Discuss Gen Ed Report,” news) only quoted the conclusion of my remarks on the general education proposal. I wish to provide a fuller version of my thoughts:

The distressing lack of emphasis on the humanities and on the study of the indispensable aesthetic component of human life and thought may result from the present bias of the proposal, but even more so from its unfortunate focus on life after Harvard. Just because relatively few Harvard students go on to graduate school and careers in academia does not mean that we should celebrate the tendency or adjust a Harvard education to fit such expectations.

Despite the proposal’s protestations to the contrary, this is another step along the disturbing path toward reducing Harvard’s liberal arts education to a pre-professional education and thus transforming Harvard’s undergraduates from scholars into consumers. A Harvard College education is an invaluable and irretrievable opportunity to spend four years devoted to the life of the mind; this time of primarily non-instrumentalized intellectual pursuit provides, as a matter of course, the knowledge, understanding, and analytical ability needed for long-term success in life beyond Harvard and as a citizen (those very few courses actually prerequisite to study in professional schools or to success in the business world naturally have an additional function). Extracurricular activities provide ample opportunity for devotion to other matters. One effect of the proposal would be to render the extracurricular curricular, thus undermining the curriculum. For these reasons, the proposal strikes me as anti-academic, even anti-intellectual.


Cambridge, Mass.

Nov. 15, 2006

The writer is a Professor of German.