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Concerns About Gen Ed Will Be Addressed, Despite Uncertainty

By Jay M. Harris, None

To the editors:

Re: “General Consternation,” editorial, April 30.

There are several errors of fact in the editorial series relating to General Education this week. The most serious of them is the assumption that the Gen Ed program will launch in four months, and that the class of 2012 will have to decide between the new Program and the Core when they arrive. This is incorrect. The new Gen Ed program will launch in September 2009, with a small number of courses available next year. Students in the Class of 2012 will enter under the Core requirements, and have the opportunity to switch, should they wish to, beginning the following year.

Student impatience with and concerns about the transition from the Core to General Education is understandable. Our sympathy with that impatience is what led us to decide early on that we would launch in September, 2009, despite the warnings from experienced faculty and administrators that even that date was too early. In many cases, departments and faculty had already developed their plans for 09-10, and even if they had not yet done so, they had developed their plans for 08-09, when the course development for the following year would have to take place. Despite these warnings, we decided that we had to push the faculty to gear up for September 2009.

Our sympathy for that impatience led us to another decision, namely to try to provide as many General Education courses as we could for September, 2008, so that many members of the Class of 2012 could have the opportunity to change from the Core to General Education, when General Education is launched in September 2009. We were strongly advised against this, again by experienced faculty and administrators, and perhaps we should have taken that advice to heart. After all, given that it was impossible to have the full program up and running, simply declaring that all members of the class of 2012 would have to fulfill the requirements of the Core, with no exceptions, would have been the simplest thing we could have done. But we did not believe that would be the best way to serve students, and so we embarked on an ambitious plan to get Gen Ed courses available to students—in a kind of “preview” mode for the program—in 08-09. Before the year is out, we should have about 15 new or significantly revised courses on the General Education menu, developed or revised specifically to meet General Education guidelines, in addition to at least that many Core classes that already meet those guidelines.

We understand that students cannot really appreciate what is involved in creating a new course, or even significantly changing an existing course–nor should they. But having 15 faculty members enthusiastically and successfully develop courses during this transitional academic year represents an extraordinary, even heroic, effort on their part. Many others have already begun laying the foundations of course development for courses that will be offered in academic year 2009-2010 and beyond.

Of course, having choices brings uncertainties, and uncertainties can create anxieties. We are well aware of the need to work with the Advising Programs Office to train next year’s Board of Freshmen Advisers to advise the class of 2012 in navigating through their choices and easing their anxieties. We are also well aware of the need for better internal communication within the College, which would have averted some of the gaps in information that was available to pre-frosh and their families this past week-end.


Cambridge, Mass.

May 2, 2008

The writer is the Chair of the Committee on General Education.

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