Phi Beta Cons

Dereliction of Duty

Harvard’s take on what all its undergraduates should be required to study—a topic long in deliberation—is finally over. And it’s nothing very impressive.
The former Dean of Faculty is encouraging the emulation of the Chinese Communist Party. I hope he’s employing his sense of irony, but it’s telling The Crimson reports his comment straightforward:

Former Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, who initiated the curricular review in 2002, encouraged professors to end the discussion. “Everything that can be said has been said, although not everyone has said it.” Kirby, an East Asia scholar, cited a 1924 vote of the Chinese Communist Party: “The motion was passed unanimously although many comrades were opposed.”

The take-away point from this vote is that Harvard’s “general education” curriculum will not really change at all. It will still consist of eight vague categories, which professors will be able to tailor their narrow specialties to, to the detriment of the notion that college graduates should have some knowledge in common. Harvard students will, as in the past 30 years of the present Core Curriculum, be able to avoid the “general” component of “general education”–this policy does nothing to enforce a common curriculum and a constrained set of course offerings.
Usually, even the Faculty itself has failed to take the curriculum change seriously. Three-quarters of the Faculty didn’t even show up to the vote.
Self-importance, however, abounds:

Drawing an analogy between the general education legislation and the U.S. Constitution, English Department Chair James T. Engell ’73 used Benjamin Franklin’s words to describe the new legislation as “an imperfect document.”

Spare us. Harvard’s new curriculum shows nothing more visionary than a compromise to the lowest common denominator. This is a squandering of a once-in-30-years opportunity. Harvard College should suffer a decline in prestige because of it.

Travis Kavulla is director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the R Street Institute. He is a former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners who held elected office as a Montana public service commissioner for eight years. Before that, he was an associate editor for National Review.

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