Semester’s Final Faculty Meeting Focuses on Gen Ed Criticisms

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voiced pointed criticisms of the College’s Program in General Education, echoing the findings of an interim report presented to them at their final monthly meeting of the semester Tuesday.

While Faculty members largely said they agree with the founding principles of the program, they denounced the program for counting departmental courses for Gen Ed credit.

Philosophy professor  Sean D. Kelly, chair of the seven-person committee charged to review Gen Ed, presented an interim report to the Faculty, characterizing the program as “failing on a variety of fronts.”

In his presentation, Kelly said that in order to be effective, the program must have fewer requirements with better taught and more focused courses, more faculty investment, and greater financial and administrative support. While the report itself suggests that the program could be completely overturned in favor of department-based distribution requirements, Kelly did not touch on that possibility in his presentation and instead asked the Faculty whether the program should be supplemented by distribution requirements, which could require students to take courses within specific divisions of FAS.

Jennifer L. Hochschild, a professor of Government and African and African American Studies who sat on the review committee, spoke against distribution requirements as antithetical to Gen Ed’s aims.


“Good Gen Ed courses are not only non-disciplinary but anti-disciplinary,” she said. “We need to think of the nature of the course, not the disciplines from which it comes.”

History professor Niall Ferguson said the report’s findings made him “angry” and that the Faculty should “collectively be ashamed” because he said the principles of the program “have been subverted on a massive scale.”

“574  courses ended up being listed as part of General Education,” Ferguson said. “To my eyes, it looked like the reincarnation of what we have been trying to replace.”

FAS Dean Michael D. Smith, for his part, said after the meeting that he sensed most members of the Faculty wished to retain and reform the program, not completely dispose of it.  

The review committee will create a finalized report over the summer with additional Faculty feedback, according to Kelly. Smith said he believed this report will take the form of a proposal for changes to the program, and while he is not sure when that proposal will be brought before the Faculty, he hopes that the Faculty could legislate changes at some point next year.

Government professor Stephen D. Ansolabehere also introduced a proposal to reform the election procedures for members of the Faculty Council, the highest elected body in FAS. The new system is meant to be easier to understand and to administer, he said, noting that Faculty participation in Council elections is about 25 percent and that approximately 10 percent of the ballots are thrown out every year due to mistakes made because of the complex process.

Smith said after the meeting that he hopes that the Faculty can vote on the changes early in the fall so that it can be implemented for the next Council election in the spring of 2016.

University President Drew G. Faust presented a memorandum from the Committee on the Oversight of Electronic Communications about a controversial attendance study executed last fall, which recommended that researchers notify students and faculty of such a study before it takes place.

Smith also announced the names of five faculty members who had been named Harvard College Professors for excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring. The five-year professorship provides support for research, a semester of paid leave, or summer salary.

The professors who received the positions this year are History professor Maya R. Jasanoff ’96, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology professor Elena M. Kramer, English professor Louis Menand, Visual and Environmental Studies department chair Robb Moss, and Evelyn Hu, a professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering.

—Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.


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