Facing the challenges of tomorrow

Jeremy R. Knowles, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

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The Graduate School

Admissions. The number of applicants rose again this year, by 9 percent to 7,374, with an increased proportion (now 48 percent) coming from abroad. The overall acceptance yield was down slightly, at 57 percent, with the highest acceptance rates being in the Humanities, then the Social Sciences, and lastly the Natural Sciences. Dean Peter Ellison has expressed some concern about the variation from program to program in the yield on our offers, and is engaging several departments to see how they might secure a higher yield from their most highly ranked applicants. In this of all places, where the intellectual interaction with members of the faculty will be at its closest, and where we are filling the pipeline of future faculty, we want the very best. We must be attentive and active in recruitment, and – just as in the courtship of new faculty – we must learn from those departments that do this best, reward their success, and encourage others to follow their example.

This is the second full year of implementation of the new cohort-based admissions and financial aid plan, in which financial aid allocations in the Humanities and the Social Sciences are based on the target size of the entering class. Departments are provided with a more stable resource allocation, and incoming students are guaranteed a support package for four or five years that includes tuition, a stipend for the first two years, and guaranteed teaching opportunities for the two subsequent years. One of the requirements of this scheme is, of course, that departments plan their teaching far enough in advance to be able to guarantee their students a teaching fellow position in years three and four. We shall see, next year, how successfully we handle the balance between the understandable desire of individual faculty members to choose particular teaching fellows to support their large courses, and the equally desirable need of the department or program to offer G3s and G4s a teaching opportunity.

The Faculty Committee that reviewed graduate student financial support in 1998 identified the most pressing needs in the Humanities and the Social Sciences. But they also foresaw that changes in the structure of support for students in the Natural Sciences should be made. Dean Ellison will be focusing on this issue during the year, and I hope that some improvement in acceptance rates will follow.

English Language Program. The continual rise in the number of international graduate students has prompted the Graduate School to develop a summer program for entering students whose first language is not English. A pilot offering for 32 students was given last summer, providing four weeks of intensive training in the English language as well as an introduction to the American classroom. Participants practiced section teaching and classroom and seminar presentations under the helpful eye of the Bok Center staff, and they were introduced to the Office for Career Services, the University Health Services, and the Bureau of Study Counsel. The evident success of this first program, with enthusiastic reactions from both sides of the podium, has encouraged the Graduate School to continue it.

New Ph.D. Program. Last February, the Faculty approved a new Ph.D. program in African American Studies. The proposal is slightly unusual in that it aims to combine training in African American cultural and social studies with a focus in a major disciplinary field (such as Anthropology, English, History, Music, or Sociology). The program will not only take an inter-disciplinary and comparative approach, but will also ensure that its graduates are rooted in a formal discipline. Four or five students will be admitted annually, with the first cohort arriving this fall.

In his presentation to the full Faculty in December, Dean Ellison talked about two other matters of concern. The first I have mentioned above, which is the need for more graduate student housing. The increasing prosperity of Cambridge brings us many benefits, but housing costs, sadly, rise concomitantly. This trend threatens to devalue our recent improvements in graduate student stipends and financial support, and we must try to avoid a situation where we are providing taxable dollars that our students must spend in an increasingly expensive open market. Discussions will continue on this critical matter in the months ahead. The second issue relates to the point at which our students, particularly those in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, really begin the transition ‘from student to scholar.’ Dean Ellison has begun to consult with Directors of Graduate Studies and other colleagues in many departments, to see whether a program of research apprenticeships could be fruitful in bringing this critical transition forward.


The Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences

The Division has made great progress in both faculty and student recruitment in the face of fierce competition. Dean Venkatesh Narayanamurti has made several new faculty appointments that have increased our strength and curricular offerings in Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Materials Science, and Environmental Chemistry. Some faculty ‘interface’ groups (such as in Applied Math, and Bioengineering) are now coming forward with recommendations for new faculty appointments, and the connectivity of the Division with other departments in the sciences (such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, and Earth and Planetary Sciences) is becoming stronger. Freshman interest in the applied sciences is rising, as is the number of declared concentrators. The large increase in graduate applications (from 435 to 829, last year!) is only partly accounted for by a successful new collaboration: the joint Ph.D. program with the Business School, in Information Technology and Management.

The extracurricular Technology and Entrepreneurship Center began its programs last September. The center brings together undergraduates and graduate students who are interested in the interaction of technology and business, and fosters relationships amongst leading entrepreneurs, faculty, and students. The recent rise (and fall) of the ‘dot.com’ world only emphasizes the importance of preparing our students for leadership roles in future technological development efforts.

The Division of Continuing Education

Nearly matching its enrollment peak of a decade ago, the Division served 19,716 students last year. A good portion of the increase comes from interest in computer science, for courses on which more than 3,000 students registered, thus fulfilling the predictions and justifying the strategy that the Division formulated some years ago. I have in earlier years alluded to the important experiment in distance learning that the Division was undertaking. Two years ago, the Division offered a number of online courses, largely in Computer Science, to nearly 500 students. But this ‘experiment’ has so grown in size and breadth that it has become a major initiative. I shall soon, surely, be referring to it as a program, for the number of Division courses available via the Internet has now reached 26, and several other Faculties and units at Harvard have begun to look to the Division for advice and support of their efforts in this area.

In his Annual Report, Dean Michael Shinagel commented: “While we remain excited by the range of new opportunities and teaching models made possible by advances in information technologies, we are mindful also that creating and executing successful strategies requires increased flexibility, business acumen, and technical skill in the age of the Internet; courses of action that worked well just a few years ago are easily outdated today. ” As these new approaches are developed and extended in other parts of the Faculty, both to enhance the experience of our students here and to offer intellectual content to our alumni/ae at a distance, the experience and expertise of the Division in more ‘pure’ distance learning efforts will be invaluable.

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