Reform and Restructure General Education

Since the implementation of the current General Education program at Harvard in 2007, the program’s structure and course offerings have been the subject of praise, criticism, and at times, national fascination. Last week, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced that a formal committee will be created to assess the progress and success of the Program in General Education— the first of its kind for the current curriculum.

Chair of the Philosophy Department Sean D. Kelly will head the committee, and its evaluation of the General Education program will rely significantly on students’ responses to survey questions about the curriculum, though the committee itself will be composed of only faculty members from several departments.

Though expanding the committee to include students may be unfeasible granted the timeline of the evaluation, we hope that the committee will seek as much student input as possible into its assessment. This may entail more than simply surveys, which are regularly plagued by low response rates. Inviting students to participate in committee deliberations and incentivizing students to complete surveys earnestly— in a fashion similar to how the Q guide offers the early ability to see grades— ought to become part of the committee’s toolkit.

Many students dislike the current General Education program. Its admirable goal of seeking to “connect in an explicit way what students learn in Harvard classrooms to life outside the ivied walls” has instead produced a small number of classes glutted with students and often seen as the easiest courses at the University.

It is logical that General Education courses in the physical or life sciences, for example, be less rigorous than those offered within specific science departments. However, students in some departments find themselves having to take lower level courses in their fields of expertise simply to fulfill their General Education requirements. Social Studies 10a, for example, does not fulfill the Ethical Reasoning requirement, most English department lecture and seminar courses do not fulfill Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding requirements, graduate level Mathematics courses do not fulfill the Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning requirement, and so on.

The most immediate and easily solvable problem facing the Gen Ed program rests with the scope of classes that fulfill requirements. The current system requires professors to fill out proposal forms for their courses to be evaluated for submission into the Gen Ed program. This process ought to still exist, but the committee should immediately increase the program’s purview by admitting courses that obviously introduce students to the the Gen Ed fields.

General Education courses ought not to differ significantly in style or rigor from other courses at the university. Such a reorganization may help solve the issue of overenrolled Gen Ed courses, even if it requires a reevaluation or elimination of some of the Program in General Education’s current principles.

Want to keep up with breaking news?
Get the latest, straight to your inbox.

Speak Your Mind