Harvard dean William Kirby, head of the school’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, announced on Oct. 7 the first review of Harvard’s undergraduate curriculum in almost three decades.
Harvard’s review comes more than a year after Yale President Richard Levin announced an examination of the Yale College curriculum at the Tercentennial celebrations last October. Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead is leading the 41-person committee charged with the project.
Like Yale, Harvard is undertaking its review to improve the current state of undergraduate education, not to fix pressing problems, Kirby wrote in a letter to the members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
“To undertake a review at this time is to do so from a position of strength,” Kirby said. “It is a testament to the success of the initiatives of three decades ago that Harvard College remains a vibrant academic institution and that our programs have been emulated by institutions of higher learning around the world.”
Kirby wrote that he will work closely with Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict Gross on the project. Kirby and Gross will initiate the review by soliciting faculty input about what kinds of questions should be asked and how to organize the review to enable wide participation.
“We are just in the initial stage of the review, and are asking faculty and students to send us their ideas on how it should be structured,” Gross wrote in an e-mail. “This year is primarily for conversation and thought, not legislation.”
In beginning its review, Harvard will hold a series of symposia this semester, including one in November that will feature Yale’s Brodhead.
“When he is here, I hope to learn more from Dean Brodhead about the review at Yale,” Gross said.
Harvard sophomore Thalia Considine said she thought student feedback should be very important in examining Harvard’s core curriculum.
“What happens with the core is that people take courses with the least amount of workload and not necessarily the courses that they are interested in,” Considine said.
According to Kirby’s letter, Harvard’s review will closely examine the current core curriculum, which requires all Harvard undergraduates to complete eight core courses from a choice of 11 different areas of study.
Yale’s academic review committee — which is divided into four working groups — has focused on a variety of issues, including distributional requirements, graduate school resources, and the language requirement.
Political Science chairman Ian Shapiro, who is leading the social and international studies working group, said his group spent most of the spring semester soliciting opinions and is now moving towards making recommendations, including one on foreign language education.
“We’re planning to make it a great deal easier for people for go abroad on Yale’s dollar,” Shapiro said. “We’re looking at reconfiguring the language requirement.”
Shapiro said his working group is also trying to find ways to share faculty between Yale’s faculty of arts and sciences and Yale’s professional schools, such as the School of Management and the School of Public Health.
“We’re also then looking at areas where there is a lot of student interest and demand, but not enough faculty,” Shapiro said. “There are numerous faculty in the School of Management who would love to teach undergraduates, but the school cannot spare them.”
Psychology chairman Peter Salovey, who is leading the biomedical education subcommittee, said in an e-mail that his working group is trying to “come to grips” with a variety of recommendations. The committee is focusing on directed research in laboratories, courses in the health field and introductory science classes, Salovey said.
Astronomy chairman Charles Bailyn, who is leading the physical sciences and engineering working group, said in an e-mail that his subcommittee will circulate a student survey to gather information this fall.
“We won’t be able to make any concrete suggestions until we’ve digested the results of that exercise,” Bailyn said.