College Curriculum Change Completed

On May 15, at its sixth consecutive weekly meeting (the normal schedule is monthly), the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) voted to adopt the proposal for...

On May 15, at its sixth consecutive weekly meeting (the normal schedule is monthly), the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) voted to adopt the proposal for a new general-education curriculum, designed to replace the current Core curriculum requirements for undergraduates.

The new curriculum (see “General Education, Finally Defined,” March-April 2007), aims to connect a student’s “liberal education” with “life beyond college,” prescribing a one-semester course in each of eight areas:

  • aesthetic and interpretive understanding
  • culture and belief
  • empirical and mathematical reasoning
  • ethical reasoning
  • science of living systems
  • science of the physical universe
  • societies of the world
  • the United States in the world.

The detailed descriptions of the curriculum as a whole, of each area of study, and of the administrative structure through which new courses will be elicited from faculty members and approved (huge and crucial tasks) appear in the motion approved by the faculty; the text appears here (PDF).

Interim president Derek Bok hailed the faculty’s vote—along with other measures adopted in recent years to review concentrations, improve academic advising, delay student concentration choice until the middle of sophomore year, encourage study abroad, and more—as the culmination of the most comprehensive effort to improve undergraduate education in Harvard’s history.

President-elect Drew Gilpin Faust, who is a professor of history (as well as dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study), refrained from speaking during the weeks of legislative debate and from voting, given her forthcoming role and her view that curriculum design is the faculty’s domain. During the May 15 discussion, however, she did rise to advise her colleagues that it would be “my privilege and my responsibility” as president to work with the new FAS dean to implement whatever the faculty adopted, and to secure new resources, as required, to bring the newly envisioned courses into being. The undergraduate academic experience, she said, was central both to Harvard University and to her plans for her presidency.

Acting interim FAS dean David Pilbeam immediately began soliciting the names of faculty members who will serve on the standing committee created to oversee the new curriculum; he aims to have it established by the time a new dean takes office on July 1.

The FAS news release on the curriculum is available here. Further details will be published in Harvard Magazine’s July-August issue.

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