Amidst Uncertainty, Gen Ed Vote At Hand

Role of departmental courses is disputed as next week's decision approaches

Four years after the curricular review began, the final version of the proposed general education legislation will come before professors at a meeting of the full Faculty of Arts and Sciences next week. But even with a final vote in sight, professors still disagreed yesterday over the place of advanced departmental courses in the new program.

Interim Dean of the Faculty David Pilbeam, who has stepped in for Dean Jeremy R. Knowles as Knowles battles prostate cancer, expressed concern yesterday that the Faculty might fail to see the review through to completion.

“We are running very close to running this whole thing into the sand,” Pilbeam said.

“We are not very good at fine-tuning in the committee as a whole,” Pilbeam said, referring to the entire Faculty. He assured his colleagues that minor concerns with the legislation will be addressed by the much smaller committee assigned to implement the final legislation.

But just one week before the final vote, some professors expressed concern that fundamental disagreements about the future of general education at Harvard remain.

“I don’t think we are of a common mind about whether we will allow advanced courses or not,” Professor of Physics and Astronomy Christopher Stubbs said.

Pellegrino University Professor Peter L. Galison said that if all advanced departmental courses could be counted for general education credit, the Faculty “would immediately and without qualification have a distribution requirement, rendering useless everything we have discussed.”

Since professors lacked a quorum when they gathered in University Hall yesterday for their meeting—the fifth gathering of the Faculty in five weeks—no official votes were taken on the final proposed amendments to the general education program slated to replace the often-criticized Core Curriculum.

While the Core focuses on “ways of knowing,” the new program—which was introduced to the Faculty in February—stresses connections between academic study and the real world.

Yesterday’s meeting was marked by awkward legislative maneuvers and aborted motions, as professors struggled to draw the long-running curriculum debate to a close.

The lack of a quorum—which is defined as one-sixth of the voting Faculty members—at yesterday’s meeting left at least one professor wondering about the aims of yesterday’s discussion.

“Sometimes composers write music with an instrument in mind,” Professor of History Peter E. Gordon, who helped draft the legislation, said. “I feel like I’m doing that, imagining a tune that will never get played.”

—Staff Writer Johannah S. Cornblatt can be reached at

—Staff Writer Samuel P. Jacobs can be reached at