Faculty Debate Changes to Language Requirement, Simultaneous Enrollment At FAS Meeting


Members of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences discussed proposed changes to Harvard’s language requirement and simultaneous enrollment policies at a virtual meeting Tuesday.

Currently, students at Harvard College who do not test out of the foreign language requirement must complete two semesters of a foreign language by the end of their second year or risk disciplinary action from the Administrative Board. The new proposal would encourage students to complete the requirement by the end of their second year, while replacing the administrative penalty with an advising hold.

Under the new policy, students who fail to complete the language requirement by the end of their sophomore year would have to meet with the director of academic policy and “develop a concrete plan” to fulfill the requirement in order to see the hold lifted.

Several faculty members said the requirement is not strong enough as is and that the amendment may further weaken it.


“After a year of Chinese, you can’t even communicate with a balloon,” joked William C. Kirby, a history professor and former FAS dean.

“In a seemingly de-globalizing world, with the rise of nationalism and parochialism, it is more important than ever that we prepare our students to communicate in, and with, a wider world,” he added in a follow-up email.

German Professor Peter J. Burgard asked Acting Dean of Undergraduate Education Anne Harrington ’82, who presented the proposals, to open up a broader discussion about the “woeful state” of Harvard’s language requirement compared to that of Princeton or Yale, which generally require three semesters of foreign language education.

“Both of our closest peer institutions demonstrate a far more serious commitment to basic proficiency,” Burgard said.

The faculty also briefly discussed the second proposal, which would remove an option for students to petition the Ad Board to simultaneously enroll in a class if the instructor of the missed class agrees to provide “hour-for-hour direct and personal compensatory instruction,” excluding recorded lectures or other asynchronous instruction.

Harrington said the exception encumbered the Ad Board and created “an unacceptable burden on the instructor in question.”

The second proposal would also allow instructors of courses with pre-approved waivers for simultaneous enrollment to create certain stipulations or conditions for simultaneously enrolled students, including office hours or limitations on enrollment.

The FAS will vote on both proposals at next month’s meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, FAS Dean and University President-elect Claudine Gay expanded on her Tuesday announcement that launched the search for her successor, saying that she welcomed feedback and comments from the faculty and was “putting a heavy emphasis on outreach and consultation.”

University President Lawrence S. Bacow, who chaired the meeting, then invited members of the faculty to unmute their microphones to congratulate Gay on her election to the presidency.

“The Corporation has chosen exceptionally well,” Bacow said.

“Thank you for embarrassing me,” a smiling Gay quipped following an eruption of applause and cheers.

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 also briefed the faculty on the newly-launched campaign for non-tenure-track faculty unionization.

“If a union is formed, we will engage in good faith in collective bargaining negotiations,” Garber said.

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.