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The 168-14 vote at Tuesday's meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences brought to an end a long and sometimes rocky Faculty-wide debate over the future of general education at Harvard. Several reports since the curricular review's inception in 2002 were greeted with uncertainty and even outright opposition from the Faculty. Along the way, two of Harvard's top administrators—Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby and University President Lawrence H. Summers—both resigned.
Kirby launches Harvard College’s first major curricular review since the review that led to the creation of the Core Curriculum in 1978.
Curricular review committees meeting during the 2003-2004 academic year release an update; the working group on general education says it is considering whether a closed distribution system like the Core should remain a part of the undergraduate experience, or whether to move to a more or less prescriptive system.
The first major report of the curricular review is released. It recommends the elimination of the Core and suggests that students instead be allowed to fulfill broad distribution requirements through departmental courses or loosely defined “Harvard College Courses.”
Kirby announces that four new curricular review committees will be created for the 2004-2005 academic year to refine the ideas of the 2003-04 committees; one committee will further study the elimination of the Core.
At the academic year’s first Faculty-wide discussion of the curricular review, there is little agreement among professors about what the Core should be replaced with and whether interdisciplinary Harvard College Courses should be offered.
A nine-page “Draft Final Report” on general education is submitted to the Faculty Council. The report’s recommendations are in line with those of the April 2004 report. It is quickly withdrawn after being criticized by early readers for being overly vague and lacking a defining vision. By April, the Committee on General Education has pushed back the expected release date of their report to fall 2005.
A subgroup of the Committee on General Education, which becomes known as the “Gang of Five,” begins a series of summer meetings with the goal of improving the March report.
The Committee on General Education releases a 40-page “final revision” of its report, based on the work of the Gang of Five. The report calls for students to take three courses in each of three areas of study; Arts and Humanities, the Study of Societies, and Science and Technology. Students could fulfill the requirements through departmental courses or through broad “Courses in General Education.”
With the various curricular review reports ostensibly completed, Kirby announces in a letter to professors that the review is moving to a “formal discussion and decision” that could include a vote on general education by the end of the spring 2006 semester. Just one week after the announcement, Kirby resigns under pressure from Summers, setting off a wave of Faculty attacks on Summers that lead to Summers’ resignation in February. Summers’ and Kirby’s resignations, combined with tepid support for the November 2005 report, result in little progress being made on general education during the spring.
During his last weeks in office, Dean Kirby appoints six professors to the Task Force on General Education, which he charges with creating yet another report addressing the future of general education at Harvard.
The task force releases its preliminary report, which rejects the distribution requirement suggested by previous reports and instead suggests that students be required to complete approved courses in specific “areas of inquiry and experience” and “critical skills."
Amid Faculty criticism, the task force drops its headline-grabbing "Reason and Faith" requirement but added another category called "What It Means To Be a Human Being." The move to eliminate the religion requirement leaves the proposed general education curriculum looking more like the Core than it had at any point during the curricular review.
The task force releases its final report, outlining eight required categories of study: Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding, Culture and Belief. Empirical Reasoning, Ethical Reasoning, Science of Living Systems, Science of the Physical Universe, Societies of the World, and the United States in the World.
A group of three professors releases draft legislation based on the February report. It calls for the creation of a Standing Committee on General Education to oversee the new curriculum’s implementation, and says the committee that administers the Core should be dissolved after the 2007-2008 academic year.
History’s place in the new curriculum came under the microscope. In a close vote at a sometimes chaotic meeting, professors rejected a motion to add the word “history” to the name of the Culture and Belief category. Two weeks later, professors voted to require all students to take one course engaged “substantially with the study of the past.”
At the Faculty’s sixth meeting in as many weeks, professors approved the general education curriculum in a 168-14 vote, with 11 abstentions.
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