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Though public service ought to be further integrated into the academic offerings at Harvard, students should not be required to take courses with a service component, administrators said Friday at a symposium hosted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Standing Committee on Public Service.
The conversation came after Cornell University announced a $150 million initiative, “Engaged Cornell,” which was launched last week and will integrate a requirement to enroll in at least one course that involves public service for all undergraduates by 2025.
“I am opposed to the idea for a required service addition to the curriculum,” said James T. Kloppenberg, a history professor and member of the FAS Standing Committee on Public Service. “However, I would very much like to see more courses offered in the undergraduate curriculum that would enable students to integrate the work they’re doing in various public service programs that they engage in with their academic work.”
Currently, there are 13 activity-based courses with a public service component at Harvard, according to Gene A. Corbin, assistant dean of student life for public service. Courses such as Portuguese 59: “Portuguese and the Community” and African and African American Studies 102x: “Urban Problems and the Role of the Expert” allow students to confront community issues in the Boston area.
Corbin expressed support for increased overlap between academics and service.
“What I hear most from students is they’re juggling coursework and extracurriculars, and the opportunity for there to be intersection between the two helps both their schedules and unifies their Harvard College experience,” Corbin said.
The Social Studies department will take some steps to introduce more of these classes next year, according to Kloppenberg.
He noted that other colleges allow faculty to apply for course development grants, which Harvard does not offer. Yet Corbin does not believe there is a lack of financial support for developing courses that include a public service component at Harvard, but rather a less defined platform.
“It’s not that there are no efforts [to create these courses]. It’s just that they’re fragmented and lack cohesion,” Corbin said. “So we’re coming together and determining how we want to forge this intersection at Harvard.”
One of the goals of Cornell’s initiative, according to a press release, is to “be a major reason why faculty and students choose Cornell.” Kloppenger said that many prospective students are attracted to schools with similar service components and he does not feel the same could be said about Harvard.
“Options are available through [Phillips Brooks House Association] and [the Institute of Politics] and other things, but I think we could do so much more in the curriculum, and that’s what I’d like to see happen,” he said.
Jose G. Magaña ’15, president of PBHA, agreed that there is room for improvement in Harvard’s outlook on public service, but that the current avenues for engagement also deserve recognition.
“We do hear a lot about how public service at Harvard or specifically PBHA was the reason [students] came here,” Magaña said.
Still, he added that if Harvard made more connections between public service and classroom activities, more applicants may cite the availability of those opportunities as the reason they came to Harvard.
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