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Gen Ed Administrators Say More Time Needed for Program

Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris.
Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris. By Megan M. Ross
By Lucy Wang, Crimson Staff Writer

The delayed debut of the General Education program—announced Monday—is meant to give faculty more time to design new courses and take student feedback into account, director of the General Education program Stephanie Kenen said Wednesday.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced in an email to undergraduates that the new system of requirements will be implemented in 2019 instead of 2018, as was originally planned.

Kenen said designing the types of courses that achieve the goals of the new program is difficult and is taking the College longer than expected.

“In order to design courses that really stand out, and make the intellectual experience of the students be really different than everything else they take, it takes time,” Kenen said. “And it’s taking longer than we thought it might.”

The current General Education program was deemed to be “failing on a variety of fronts” in a 2015 report, raising the stakes for its replacement. Kenen pointed out that one of the critiques of the current program has been a lack of “distinctive identity in the minds of students.”

Kenen also said that one of the options for rolling out the new program was to do it in phases, proceeding as new courses are finalized. Ultimately, though, the College decided not to go forward with that plan in order to prevent further confusion for students.

“We thought, that’s not a great experience for students, and probably more importantly, it’s already confusing how the requirements are working, that to partially constitute things, that’s just not clear and clean,” Kenen said.

Psychology Professor James P. Mitchell, faculty director of General Education, said that another reason to push back the launch date is to gather more student feedback. He said the Program in General Education is currently working on developing a student advisory board.

“This is, I think another reason, for changing the launch date,” Mitchell said. “It gives us time for incorporating those student voices, and actually talk about the program.”

Mitchell and Kenen both said that, under the new program, they expect to offer around 65 courses in General Education each year. Mitchell said they chose that number so that, with 6,500 students taking classes each semester, the average General Education class size would be 100 students.

For current students in the College, the new program affects each graduating class differently. As Harvard announced before pushing back the roll-out date, current juniors and seniors will still graduate under the old requirements, while the classes of 2020 and 2021 will graduate with the new program.

Kenen added, though, that upperclassmen have more flexibility in fulfilling their requirements.

“We didn’t want students to be constrained by requirements we no longer thought were valid,” she said. “So therefore, we’re allowing students to fill old requirements with the spirit of new ones.”

Furthermore, as courses in the new program are not yet created, Kenen said that underclassmen who are taking classes that currently fulfill the old general education requirements will still receive credit.

Mitchell said that, though the push-back may cause more work for advisors, it will ultimately be worth it.

“We recognize that there’s going to be another year where there is a lot of additional moving parts for people to keep track of,” he said. “If we could’ve avoided that, we would’ve, but in the long run, it’s okay to have another year of that kind of uncertainty because the payoff is going to be the program that we really think serves our students well.”

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22

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