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Hollow Out the Core

The Arts and Sciences lords at Harvard have finally, after agonizing debate, approved a replacement for Harvard’s “Core”—the set of distributional requirements all undergradates must fulfill. Harvard had, at least, the right idea when it started down the path: make a Harvard education more relevant to the real world. Central to the initial proposal was to require at least one course about the United States and one course about religion.

In the end, the religion requirement was lifted but the American requirement remained. The final set of categories is: €œAesthetic and Interpretive Understanding, € €œCulture and Belief, € €œEmpirical and Mathematical Reasoning, € €œEthical Reasoning, € €œScience of Living Systems, € €œScience of the Physical Universe, € €œSocieties of the World, € and €œthe United States and the World. €

Besides the first category—which calls to mind the saying about fish and bicycles—they seem somewhat reasonable, if perilously vague. Of course, there remains an intense aversion to any sort of Great Books program, despite the fact that Columbia and U. Chicago have both required classes on the great literary lights for many years, to great effect.

The new Harvard “general education requirements” were approved by a vote of 168-14, but it seems that not everyone was especially pleased with the Party’s decision:

Former Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, who initiated the curricular review in 2002, encouraged professors to end the discussion. €œEverything 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: €œThe motion was passed unanimously although many comrades were opposed. €


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