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Admins Discuss Gen Ed Program

GENERAL EDUCATION
Chang Xu

Professors Louis Menand and Alison Simmons, co-chairs of the Task Force on General Education, discuss how the new curriculum will address the challenges of a liberal arts education in Lowell Lecture Hall yesterday.

A cross-section of Harvard’s top administrators tried to sell the College’s new General Education program yesterday to an audience of around 200, made up mostly of administrators, professors teaching Gen Ed classes, and a handful of freshmen.

Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds acknowledged that the curriculum’s development process has been “a long one—sometimes exciting and sometimes exasperating.” But University President Drew G. Faust tried to shore up hope for the future by tying Gen Ed to Harvard’s past.

“I see this as a historic moment,” Faust said. “Now we find ourselves in 2009 with both continuity and change—with an affirmation of the principle that there should be special courses designed, in the words of [General Education task force co-chair] Alison Simmons, to bring knowledge to the student.”

Faust detailed the progression from Harvard’s first Gen Ed report in 1945 to the Core Curriculum of the 1970s to today’s Gen Ed program. Simmons discussed how Gen Ed addresses two main themes: change and globalization.

“Things change, and they change quickly,” Simmons said. “The hot new computer that you just got for college will be a dinosaur by the time you’re a junior.”

The curricular implementation has sparked concerns from students and faculty members about the number of requirements, the broadness of the guidelines defining the eight course categories, and similarities to the Core curriculum.

“Creating and instituting a new general education program tends to create...anxiety,” said English professor Louis Menand, who co-chaired the Gen Ed task force that wrote the curricular legislation. “One reason is that the general education program represents the Faculty’s collective judgment about what every students ought to know, and since professors are all trained in different disciplines, this can be a difficult conversation to have.”

“We are just not accustomed to thinking about education in general terms,” he continued. “It’s not our specialty.”

Menand declined to comment after the speech in Lowell Lecture Hall about how Gen Ed’s course offerings have shaped up so far, explaining that he is not involved in the curriculum’s implementation since the Faculty voted in favor of the Gen Ed legislation in May 2007. A couple of hours later, he e-mailed The Crimson explaining, “Sorry if I was tongue tied at the gen ed event...it is a really promising launch.”

After Menand and Simmons spoke, they participated in a question-and-answer session. Of the four people asking questions, at least two worked for the College.

R.J. Jenkins, the Advising Program Office’s sophomore advising director, asked for Menand to expand more on “what’s happening in the classroom” since he thinks “pedagogical innovation” is “an exciting thing about what’s happening.”

Following the event, administrators were available to speak with students at the Queen’s Head Pub. The College has also been marketing Gen Ed to students via course trailers on the Gen Ed Web site and communication through the Peer Advising Fellow program.

—Staff writer Bonnie J. Kavoussi can be reached at kavoussi@fas.harvard.edu.
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