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Harvard Faculty Overwhelmingly Approve Proposal to Allow Double Concentrations

Faculty meetings are typically held in University Hall.
Faculty meetings are typically held in University Hall. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Ariel H. Kim and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted overwhelmingly in favor of a proposal that will allow undergraduate students to pursue double concentrations at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Around 91 percent of faculty voted in favor of the plan, which will allow College students to study two fields without writing a joint thesis. The policy change will take effect in the fall.

Currently, undergraduates who want to study two disciplines must either pursue a joint concentration — which requires an interdisciplinary joint thesis — or add a secondary field of study, which has fewer requirements and less administrative support.

The double concentrations proposal allows up to eight credits — generally two courses — to be double counted between the concentrations.

The plan, which was first discussed by faculty members last month, was introduced by Undergraduate Education Dean Amanda J. Claybaugh.

Claybaugh said the change will open doors for students who want to pursue two unrelated fields, especially ones who would otherwise concentrate solely in a STEM field but have interest in the arts and humanities or social sciences.

But some faculty who opposed the plan said double concentrations could incentivize students to seek out another credential on their degree, limiting room for electives.

“What the legislation is changing is the credential that they have on their transcript,” said professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology David A. Haig.

The remark drew criticism from some faculty.

“With all due respect, I don’t think this is just a dichotomy between credentials and the substance of the student experience,” Arts and Humanities Dean Robin E. Kelsey said.

Kelsey added that people who choose to pursue a secondary field are often excluded from that department’s support and advising networks.

The double concentrations plan was crafted by a subcommittee formed in September by Harvard’s Office of Undergraduate Education.

The proposal also includes a five-year review, which would require the Standing Committee on Undergraduate Educational Policy to analyze the impact of it in fall 2027.

Jeffrey D. Macklis, a professor of Life Sciences, said double concentrations will allow students to have access to personalized instruction in two fields. He said the proposal will not limit room for electives, but restructure them in a way “that allows depth in multiple fields.”

Claybaugh said a joint concentration has fewer course requirements than a double concentration, adding that a double concentration will be academically challenging and only be meant for students who are serious about pursuing rigorous coursework in both fields.

Shopping Week

Faculty members also discussed a proposal to eliminate shopping week in favor of a previous-term course registration system, but ran out of time to vote on the plan, which will be taken up next month.

The previous-term course registration proposal would require instructors to plan course curriculum earlier and move advising timelines up. Students would be able to add or drop classes without instructor permission during the first week of the semester.

If adopted, the proposal would be implemented by a joint committee composed of faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and administrators. The policy would be reviewed by Harvard’s Faculty Council — a subset of the FAS that reviews legislation before it goes to the full body — within five years of its implementation.

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Emma Dench spoke in support of the proposal, saying that shopping week can pose a burden for graduate students, who sometimes have to switch to a different teaching assignment at the last minute.

“I encourage colleagues to really be mindful of all of our students and the educational impacts on all of our students’ wellbeing,” she said.

But many faculty members still support retaining some form of shopping week, a longtime scheduling quirk that allows students to sample courses during the first week of the semester before officially enrolling.

Professor of German Peter J. Burgard called for the College to leave shopping week in place for freshmen in the interest of exploration, but move to a previous-term registration system for upperclassmen.

“Early registration is troubling for rising first and second-semester freshmen,” he said. “They can’t be advised in the same way in the spring about fall semester courses.”

Computer Science professor David J. Malan ’99 said shopping week is “one of Harvard’s most impactful traditions educationally,” despite the administrative planning difficulties it presents.

“It is not just an add-drop period in which to fine-tune decisions — it is an educational mandate from us to explore, a dedicated time to experience what courses are like, to discover yourself academically,” he said.

“And that culture of exploration, that uncertainty, that chaos changes students’ trajectories in college, if not beyond,” Malan added.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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