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Harvard Professors Prepare for New General Education Program Rollout

University Hall.
University Hall.
By Jonah S. Berger and Juliet E. Isselbacher, Crimson Staff Writers


University Hall hosts the Faculty of Arts and Science's monthly meetings.
University Hall hosts the Faculty of Arts and Science's monthly meetings. By Michael Gritzbach

Faculty members gearing up to teach General Education courses under the revised program this fall say they are excited about the prospect of reaching new students.

Some faculty members are preparing entirely new curricula to fit the requirements, while others are revamping previously offered departmental courses to reach a broader audience.

The changes come as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences prepares to roll out a revamped version of the program — which aims to encourage students to “explore enduring questions,” Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh wrote in an email Tuesday. A faculty committee tasked with reviewing the program in 2015 found it was “failing on a variety of fronts,” prompting the Faculty to overhaul the requirements.

Last year, administrators announced they were delaying the rollout of the new program until fall 2019 — a year later than originally planned — to give faculty members more time to develop courses.

On Monday, Claybaugh affirmed the program is “absolutely” funded, after initial concerns from some faculty members about a lack of administrative and financial support for the program.

“Gen Ed is more than a requirement: it defines what a Harvard College education should mean,” she wrote. “Recognizing that, the administration has allocated considerable resources to Gen Ed.”

Comparative Literature Professor David Damrosch — who will teach Gen Ed 1021: “The Stories We Tell” in the fall along with English Professor Martin Puchner — praised the focus of the new program, saying it allows faculty members to ground courses in their own expertise but still offer broad lessons for students in all disciplines.

“One of the things that’s been nice about the reinvention of Gen Ed currently is that it’s striking a good balance now between the general and the particular,” Damrosch said. “So that this can be a course based in literature that nonetheless is a general course and not a specialized course.”

“I think in the prior formulation of Gen Ed there was more of a tendency to be almost anti-disciplinary or to be very broadly philosophical, in a way,” he added.

Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences Robert J. Wood, who served on the Gen Ed review committee, plans to teach Gen Ed 1080: “How Music Works: Engineering the Acoustical World” this fall.

“We’re able to touch on concepts all throughout engineering, but you don’t need to have an engineering background to take the course,” he said. “That’s a huge population of the Harvard student body that can walk in off the street and take the course, and yet be challenged.”

Wood said he is excited to engage “a broader audience” in the technical sciences through music.

“As the course previously was, it was kind of limited in terms of who could take it under different concentration requirements,” he said. “I very much want an academically diverse student body.”

Other professors said the Gen Ed changes provided an opportunity to develop an entirely new curriculum. Classics Professor Kathleen M. Coleman, who will teach Gen Ed 1131: “Loss” this fall, said the committee asked her if she would prefer to revamp a course she had taught for multiple years.

“I thought, here’s an opportunity for me to offer something different and, starting from scratch, I can maybe make it into what the new Gen Ed wants instead of trying to squeeze the old one into a new sausage,” she said.

The fate of at least one previously offered course — Culture and Belief 23: “From the Hebrew Bible to Judaism” — remains in limbo, as Professor Shaye J. D. Cohen attempts to “convince" the review committee to reinstate its Gen Ed status.

“I am hoping that after further conversation with the GenEd office I will be able to offer CB 23 again as a Gen Ed course,” he wrote in an email.

Claybaugh wrote in her email that the Gen Ed standing committee will review all courses “both now and periodically going forward.”

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

— Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

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