Few, if any, current Harvard College students will experience a reformed curriculum. As a parent of a member of the class of 2008, I was briefed by the faculty about the pending plans to reform the core curriculum during the September 2004 freshman orientation. Today, with curriculum reform still being discussed and with the resignations of President Lawrence Summers and Dean William Kirby, it is certain that my daughter will enter her junior year, and most likely her senior year, with no curriculum reform in place at Harvard College.
Immediate curriculum reform for Harvard students is necessary because the current core curriculum has become an impediment to a liberal arts education. The distinctions drawn between core and departmental courses are inexplicable and irrational. My daughter’s multidisciplinary bioethics course does not count towards the core requirement of Moral Reasoning. Her history of science course on the nineteenth century social response to Darwinian evolution does not count as a History A or B. Her three demanding, higher-level French courses do not count towards either the Foreign Cultures or the Literature and Arts requirements of the core. Instead, the core requires students to work less demanding courses into their schedules, while not counting more demanding departmental courses. Further, relatively few qualifying core classes are taught each semester, resulting in hugely oversubscribed courses.
A simple and immediate solution to this problem is maintaining the core requirements for current students while substantially increasing the number of departmental courses that count towards the core requirement. Designating which departmental courses count towards the core should not require the unpredictable and after-the-fact process of individual student application to the Registrar. A faculty committee, sitting down with the course catalog, could perform the task in a week. This reform actually could be in place by the fall 2006 semester.
A likely criticism of this approach is that it reduces the core to a distribution requirement. But given that the current core admittedly does not work, the faculty has no consensus on reform, and a distribution requirement is one likely outcome of the current curriculum review, it is a reasonable interim solution.
The education of the current Harvard College students is too important and too fleeting an undertaking to continue application of flawed core curriculum requirements while the faculty debates an ideal solution. Harvard undergraduates deserve better.
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