Harvard Faculty to Vote on Concurrent Degree Program, VES Name Change

VES Library
The fourth floor of Sever Hall houses the Visual and Environmental Studies department's film library. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will discuss a potential change to the department's name.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will vote on a proposal to create a new concurrent degree program at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Under the proposed program, FAS will allow students to simultaneously pursue a bachelor’s degree through the College and a master’s degree through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In order to complete the two degrees in four years, students would be allowed to double-count twelve credits — typically equivalent to three courses — towards both degrees. They would then take five GSAS courses in addition to their normal college coursework.

If enacted, the new program would replace the current “Advanced Standing” program, which allows students entering the College with the requisite number of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate credits to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years or a bachelor’s and a master’s in four. Advanced Standing is currently being phased out.

Unlike Advanced Standing, the new concurrent degree program does not require students to have completed any AP or IB credits. Students in the Class of 2022 and beyond would be eligible to apply.


Faculty members clashed over the concurrent degree program at last month’s meeting.

Comparative Literature Professor Karen L. Thornber, who presented the new program to the Faculty for discussion last month, argued that it would give an “extra boost” to students who might not want to or be able to attend graduate school after earning their undergraduate degree.

But some faculty members contended that the proposed system would overburden students and erode the integrity of a master’s degree.

Computer Science Professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 said at the February meeting that the rationale for requiring students to take five extra classes — meaning they would need to take five courses instead of the typical four for most of their undergraduate careers — for a dual degree would be “too heavy a burden” for even the most qualified students.

“The quality of their work — and again, these are our best students — will go down because they’re going to be splitting their 24 hours five ways instead of four,” said Lewis, who previously served as Dean of the College.

The Faculty will also vote on whether to rename the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies to the “Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies.” At last month’s meeting, Department Chair Robb Moss argued that the current name has become outdated and no longer reflects the work of its faculty or the courses it offers.

The Faculty Council — FAS’s highest governing body, which advances legislation to the full faculty — voted to endorse both proposals last month. The Council did not hold its regularly scheduled meeting last week.

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.