Third Gen Ed Town Hall Draws Deans, Four Students

Students and administrators discussed the intentions of the Program in General Education and areas for improvement in a town hall-style discussion Wednesday in Cabot House, marking the third of four meetings intended to help a committee charged with reviewing the program better understand how students are experiencing Gen Ed.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith and Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris, who both appointed Philosophy professor Sean D. Kelly in December to spearhead the review process, attended to listen to students reflect on the program. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana attended the last 30 minutes of the meeting.

While only four undergraduates and one graduate student attended the meeting, Kelly said many more had attended the previous meetings in Quincy House and Eliot House.

Students were divided on what the purpose of the program should be, some mentioning that they thought the program cultivated skill sets and prompted self-reflection, while others said they thought Gen Ed mainly introduced students to different ways of thinking.

“I think what [Gen Ed] does is make sure that someone doesn’t get through college only doing [computer science], or history,” Alexa M. Oord ’17 said during the discussion. “But it should do more, because I went to a liberal arts school so the culture of exploration and open-mindedness would be encouraged.”


Harris said that the purpose of the program wasn’t just to expose students to skill sets, but to teach students to approach subjects in different ways.

“The theory is that Gen Ed courses are not just engagement with a particular topic, but a specific type of engagement that is built around a certain pedagogy, a certain set of questions,” Harris said.

Those in attendance focused on the language of the 2007 legislation that created the program, which states that one of its goals is to inspire students to become “engaged citizens locally, nationally, and internationally.”

“That seems sort of final, like saying, ‘Here is the context you can go be a citizen of the world with,’” said David R. Palmer ’16, who was in favor of creating more foundational courses for the program. “The aim sounds great, but I think it makes more sense to start from the ground instead of making it to the end.”

Students expressed interest in administrators publishing a document delineating how Gen Ed courses are proposed and approved and suggested that professors of Gen Ed courses explicitly define the goals of their courses in their syllabi.

On that topic, Khurana wondered whether or not faculty members assume that students fully understand the purpose of a course.

“I think we often take for granted that students know what [instructors] are trying to get across,” Khurana said.

After the last town hall meeting for students, which will be held on Oct. 22 in Strauss Hall’s common room, the review committee will hold meetings for faculty and teaching fellows.

The committee will finish its report in the spring and then give it to Smith for further review, according to Kelly.

“I think these meetings are critical to understanding where we are in the program,” Smith said after the event, adding that he would wait until the committee created its review to comment on the state of the program as it exists today.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.