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Faculty Approve General Education Overhaul

By Melissa C. Rodman and Luca F. Schroeder, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: March 2, 2016, at 7:58 p.m.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted Tuesday to approve a new General Education program that would allow students to take as many as half of the program’s requirements pass-fail.

The newly approved legislation mandates that students take four courses in new Gen Ed categories and three distribution requirements across FAS and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Additionally, the program requires a “quantitative facility” course, modified from the current Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning Gen Ed category.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris clarified at the meeting that, in theory, students could opt to take one of the Gen Ed courses as well as all three distribution requirements pass-fail. Though allowing students to enroll in a class pass-fail will remain subject to the discretion of the course instructor, many faculty expressed surprise at the change and said they were concerned this option could reduce the program’s rigor.

“I don’t really want students in my class who are both pass-fail and letter grade unless the pass-fail are not doing it for Gen Ed credit,” said Comparative Study of Religion professor Diana L. Eck, who called the change “appalling.” “It doesn’t make any sense to me, it feels like a weakening of this requirement and puts instructors in a strange position.”

In addition to the pass-fail option, the new Gen Ed category previously entitled “Aesthetics, Culture, and Interpretation” is now named “Aesthetics and Culture.”

“This is a historic moment,” University President Drew G. Faust said, congratulating the review committee on its work.

Faculty meetings take place in University Hall.
Faculty meetings take place in University Hall. By Vimal S. Konduri

At the first faculty meeting last fall, Faust offered her own set of principles that she hoped would shape the new program to “embody the very best pedagogy.” She said undergraduates should receive a liberal, interdisciplinary education that emphasizes elective opportunities and literacy in writing and mathematics.

Additionally, the Gen Ed legislation now states that a committee tasked with reviewing undergraduate education requirements will “recommend”—not “determine”—any changes to the program. The full Faculty still must vote on changes to graduation requirements.

It remains unclear when the new program will roll out, though FAS Dean Michael D. Smith has said he does not want to run two programs at once and on Tuesday emphasized that he would like the new program implemented as soon as possible.

Faculty also expressed concern about whether the new program—which passed without an delineated budget—would receive sufficient financial and administrative support.

History professor Andrew D. Gordon, in particular, said he worried that an inadequate plan for resources would impede the new Gen Ed, citing the financial crisis that complicated the launch of the current program in 2008.

Gen Ed committee chair Edward J. Hall added that teaching a successful Gen Ed course requires substantial preparation on the part of the course instructor, and suggested that a significant amount of resources would be needed for the new program to succeed. He said he expects around 120 to 150 Gen Ed courses to be offered each year.

“I couldn’t agree more that we have to put resources into this, but I also can’t create resources from nothing,” Smith said in response. “There’s unfortunately not a pot of money out there just waiting to be spent on Gen Ed.” Smith said he hoped to receive the support of faculty to prioritize funding for Gen Ed over other programs, where appropriate.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Faculty also voted to approve a dual degree program between the Music Department and the Berklee College of Music.

The program, which Faculty discussed at their meeting in January, mirrors the partnership already in place between Harvard and the New England Conservatory. Students enrolled in the Harvard-Berklee program will receive a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard and a Master of Music from Berklee in fields including music technology, digital production, global music, and jazz performance.

At last month’s FAS meeting, some professors raised concerns about the program, citing financial costs associated with niche academic opportunities that could preclude underprivileged students from participating.

The Harvard-Berklee program would cost each student $8,000 per year, the same cost of the current Harvard-NEC program, Music Department Chair Carol J. Oja said.

The Harvard-Berklee program’s global jazz track, however, would be fully funded, whether the enrolled student is at Harvard or another school, Oja added.

Psychology Professor Jason P. Mitchell, who previously has criticized the $8,000 annual tuition, said while he appreciates that the dual degree broadens the Music Department’s offerings, he worries that conversations about fundraising will cease after the program’s inception.

Smith said he would not prioritize funding financial aid for the program.

“Fundraising for Berklee is not high on my agenda,” Smith said. “I will fundraise more broadly for things in the arts than specifically for a program.”

Visual and Environmental Studies professor Robb Moss and Germanic Languages and Literatures professor Eric Rentschler introduced a proposal to transfer a current doctoral program in Film and Visual Studies from the purview of a standing committee to the VES department.

Faculty will vote on this proposed change at a future meeting.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.

—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction

CORRECTION: March 2, 2016

A previous version of this article stated professor emeritus Stanley Cavell presented a proposal about Film and Visual Studies along with Visual and Environmental Studies professor Rob Moss. In fact, Germanic Languages and Literatures professor Eric Rentschler helped present.

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