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The Year at the College

By Benedict H. Gross

This has been a year of change for the academic and social lives of undergraduates. Some of our most established programs continue to expand, with about one-sixth of the student body planning to study or work abroad during term time or over the summer, and almost three-quarters of all freshmen enrolled in one of our 125 freshman seminars. The implementation of the curricular review’s proposals has begun, most notably in rethinking concentrations, creating new foundational courses, and revamping advising. And the campus life of the College has begun to thrive in new and exciting ways.

The most visible changes relate to this spring’s progress on the curricular review. The Faculty passed two pieces of legislation that were the first substantial changes in Harvard’s concentration system in 90 years. First, the Classes of 2010 and beyond will not have to choose a concentration until the end of the third term. Of course, some students will know their field of interest earlier; they will be able to get departmental advice at any time. But many will use the extra semester to explore new fields and compare neighboring concentrations. To ensure students are prepared, students will be required to attend at least one concentration advising session at the end of their freshman year to learn about the aims and general methods of the field.

Second, the Faculty has agreed to introduce secondary fields—a cluster of four to six courses in an area of inquiry that will be recognized on the student’s transcript (as language citations are now). This will allow students to pursue an interest in more than one field without writing a joint thesis.

This spring the Faculty also discussed and approved the reports of the Committee on Writing and Speaking and the Committee on Advising and Counseling. The latter has already led to the creation of the Office of Advising Programs in the College, and the creation of a new peer advising program for the arriving freshman class. We are also working on recruiting more non-resident advisers for entering freshmen and on improving departmental advising websites. Several House Masters and Resident Deans will join the advising committee next year to help plan our advising program for first-semester sophomores.

Many of the most exciting developments in undergraduate education are taking place at the departmental and divisional level. This year, Life Sciences 1a and 1b each provided a new introduction to the field for over 400 undergraduates. Next year, we will offer a total of seven new introductory courses in science and mathematics as well as several new interdisciplinary courses intended to serve as portals to the humanities. The faculty also approved a new cluster of Life Science concentrations.

Furthermore, this summer, with funding from the Provost’s Office, we will inaugurate a residential program in science, PRISE, for 120 of our students. They will conduct research in Harvard laboratories under the supervision of our faculty while living on campus and enjoying meals and evening programming together, to build community among students in the sciences.

A key component of the curricular review that remains before us is the creation of a new program in general education, which will replace the Core Curriculum. The Faculty has been discussing a two-pronged approach to general education, which includes a distribution requirement that will provide students with some breadth in their programs, and specially designed courses intended to provide students with the skills and knowledge that they will need to become engaged and responsible citizens of the modern world. The Faculty continues to discuss and debate the required areas of distribution and the criteria for special courses in general education. In the meantime, more departmental courses have been approved to serve as alternative avenues for fulfilling Core requirements for current students.

The dean’s office has also been supporting initiatives relating to student life to create a greater sense of College community. We have sponsored a number of campus-wide events, from the first annual welcome back event, the Harvard State Fair, to the Harvard-Yale pep rally to this spring’s Yardfest featuring Ben Folds. All of these events were enthusiastically attended and will be held again next year, with the addition of the new student-run College Events Board to help with planning and scheduling.

New student social space will also be constructed over the summer. In October, a café will open in the reference room of Lamont Library, and three floors of student organization and meeting space in Hilles (along with the Penthouse Coffee Bar on the top floor) will be ready for the start of the fall term. Loker Commons is also being reinvented with music practice rooms and a pub. The pub, named the Cambridge Queen’s Head after a 17th century Inn which enjoyed John Harvard’s custom, will open in February of 2007. And some Yard basements are being renovated for the Harvard Foundation, the new Women’s Center, and religious groups that require daily prayer space.

I want to thank President Summers, who contributed most of the funds for our construction projects, and Dean Kirby, who supported all of our efforts in the College. The many students who served so effectively on our advisory and planning boards—both those relating to academics and student-life—also deserve thanks. Undergraduates have served on every faculty curricular committee, formed the Student Advisory Board to the Advising Programs office that helped design the peer advising program, and will serve on the advisory committee for the presidential search. In student activities, undergraduates helped assign space in Hilles, joined the search for a director of the Women’s Center, and played a large role in the planning of the pub and café. Working with students is one of the best aspects of my job, and I look forward to working closely with all of you in the year ahead.

Harvard College continues to have a great reputation—over 80 percent of our admitted students chose to attend this year. It is a challenge for all of us to live up to it.

Benedict H. Gross ’71 is Leverett Professor of Mathematics and Dean of Harvard College.

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