Campus & Community

FAS approves new General Education curriculum

4 min read

Will replace Core Program established in the late 1970s

The Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved Tuesday (May 15) a motion that sets the stage for the implementation of the first complete overhaul of general education for undergraduates in nearly 30 years. By voting to put in place a new program in General Education, the FAS is replacing the Core Program established in the late 1970s.

The goals of the new General Education curriculum are to prepare students for civic engagement; teach students to understand themselves as products of — and participants in — traditions of art, ideas, and values; prepare students to respond critically and constructively to change; and to develop students’ understanding of the ethical dimensions of what they say and do.

The new program requires students to take a semester-long course in each of the following areas:

<•> Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding to help students develop skills in criticism, that is, aesthetic responsiveness and interpretive ability.

<•> Culture and Belief to develop an understanding of and appreciation for traditions of culture and belief in human societies.

<•> Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning to teach the conceptual and theoretical tools used in reasoning and problem solving, such as statistics, probability theory, mathematics, logic, and decision theory.

<•> Ethical Reasoning to teach how to reason about moral and political beliefs and practices, and how to deliberate and assess claims about ethical issues.

<•> Science of Living Systems to introduce concepts, facts, and theories relevant to living systems.

<•> Science of the Physical Universe to introduce key concepts, facts, and theories about the physical universe that equip students to better understand our world and the universe.

<•> Societies of the World to examine one or more societies outside the United States.

<•> The United States in the World to examine American social, political, legal, cultural, and/or economic institutions, practices, and behavior, from contemporary, historical, and/or analytical perspectives.

The program is consistent with past general education programs at Harvard that prescribe a set of requirements and call for a set of extra-departmental course options, rather than advocate that students have free range across existing departmental offerings in the form of an open distribution system. It emphasizes subjects, rather than academic disciplines, and seeks to inspire lifelong interest in those subjects with a pedagogy that relates material studied in the classroom to issues and problems of wide concern.

“This new program is the result of hundreds of hours of lively engagement by the Faculty,” said David Pilbeam, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “As a result, I am hopeful that we have fashioned something that is both challenging to the life of our students’ minds and responsive to their interests and needs.”

Harvard University interim President Derek Bok said, “I am very pleased that the Faculty has approved a new curriculum. With clear and compelling goals coupled with carefully crafted criteria defining the courses to achieve them, the new General Education program offers an impressive framework for acquiring the breadth essential to a strong liberal arts education. I am grateful to all those who worked so hard to make this possible.”

The legislation calls for the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to appoint a standing committee that will foster the development of new general education courses. The committee will also be responsible for planning all aspects of the transition from the Core Program to the program in General Education, and will report back to the faculty on these plans next year.

The legislation passed by the Faculty today was derived from the final report of the Task Force on General Education issued in February 2007.