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Princeton’s Gen Ed Proposals Mirror Harvard Program

As it crafts a new core curriculum of its own, Princeton is looking at Harvard’s recent efforts to revamp its general education program, which will go into effect fall 2018.

In an Oct. 20 report, Princeton’s Task Force on General Education wrote that it had consulted a series of peer institutions, including Harvard. Some of the task force’s six recommendations, which include introducing optional classes during the month of January, mirror some practices in place at Harvard and other schools.

After a year-long review, a faculty committee found in May 2015 that Harvard’s General Education program was “failing on a variety of fronts.” The Faculty eventually approved a new program that reduced the number of Gen Ed classes and required students to take a number of distribution requirements across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ divisions.

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The Princeton report encouraged narrowing the list of existing general education courses and developing new courses that would “explore social problems in collaborative, interdisciplinary ways.”

According to Harvard philosophy professor Sean D. Kelly, who chaired the committee that oversaw Harvard’s General Education renewal, Princeton’s current general education structure focuses more heavily on distribution requirements than does Harvard’s.

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“The things that sound like they’re a little bit reminiscent of the Gen Ed reform are the giving more freedom to fulfill certain kinds of distribution requirements and giving more focus to the Gen Ed courses themselves,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the Harvard General Education reform committee did not look at Princeton’s current model because of its focus on distribution requirements, but instead considered schools such as Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, and Yale when crafting a new program.

Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Stephanie H. Kenen said many schools have looked to Harvard for curricular advice more generally.

“When Harvard makes big changes, people ask what’s going on,” she said. “I’ve met with people from pretty much all over the world. A lot of other schools domestically will look to us.”

The Princeton report also referenced Harvard’s joint concentrations to encourage the creation of “formalized joint or mixed concentrations.”

Other recommendations at Princeton include new requirements for all undergraduates to study a foreign language regardless of prior proficiency and the introduction two new mandatory “tags” for classes—international content and the intersections of culture, identity, and power.

The recommendations made by the task force are now being reviewed by Princeton administrators.

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