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John Harvard's Journal

Arts and Sciences' Ambitious Plans

March-April 2004

In his annual report, published in early February, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) William C. Kirby outlined three simultaneous "planning exercises." In an interview, he said, "We don't have, yet, the curriculum for the twenty-first century, the plan for faculty growth and development, the master plan for physical development." But when concluded, his letter notes, these efforts could reshape undergraduate education, "the future of the faculty itself," and the "physical space, in Cambridge and in Allston," where FAS pursues its teaching and research agendas. (The text is available under "Dean and Administration" at www.fas.harvard.edu.)

The curriculum review — Kirby called it "our highest academic priority" — has received the most attention during the past year. He suggested three emerging themes related to the content of teaching: internationalization; scientific literacy; and exposure to topics that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. On the form of teaching, he stressed close engagement of faculty members with students; real research opportunities; and undergraduate access to what the wider University has to offer. (See "Rethinking College," for more on the curriculum review.)

Assessing the student body, Kirby noted rising interest in study abroad, facilitated by more liberal rules for Core course requirements, and increasing enrollment of international students. To make students happier and healthier, "initial improvements" toward the planned renovation of Malkin Athletic Center will occur this summer. With Harvard Law School, FAS will renovate Hemenway Gymnasium next summer. After its library functions are downsized, Hilles Library promises new space for student organizations. At the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, he noted, applications, admissions selectivity, and yield have all set new highs, as more adequate scholarship and dissertation support phases in.

Four new deans of disciplines (one for life sciences is to be named) are driving academic planning, "the first [such review] to encompass the entire faculty in more than a decade." In the interview, Kirby said this work will inform "what kind of appointments we should be making, in which realms and between them."

(In separate conversations, the social-sciences and humanities deans suggested intellectual themes of emerging interest. Professor of economics David M. Cutler talked about assessing the consequences of globalization and probing the connections among biology, behavior, and the environment. Maria M. Tatar, Loeb professor of Germanic languages and literatures, referred to cultural studies and a renewed focus on ethics and aesthetics. Work is also proceeding on hiring, new research programs, and educational opportunities in fields from stem-cell research to engineering and applied biomedical science.)

Kirby noted that a department was last closed a half-century ago, and a new one last launched more than 30 years ago, making this a suitable time to take stock of faculty change, innovative scholarly centers, and the composition of the professoriate — increasingly comprising tenured, and older, members. A review of appointment procedures has resulted in directives to recruit the best junior faculty members, and to provide them the support they need to have the best chance for eventual promotion to tenured slots.

"FAS is, of course, massively in Allston already," in the form of the athletic complex, Kirby observed, addressing physical plans. As the new campus there unfolds, he wrote, "It is inconceivable to me that this faculty, the largest part of Harvard University, will not play a major role." In the meantime, massive construction proceeds within and at the last frontiers of FAS's Cambridge campus: steel is up for the Center for Government and International Studies; the 135,000-square-foot Laboratory for Interface Science and Engineering breaks ground this spring; and a 436,000-square-foot "North/West Laboratory" is planned, with completion scheduled for late 2007 (see "Agassiz Agreement," page 66).

Continuing at this pace, he pointed out, will depend on careful financial management, as revenue growth in fiscal year 2003 (6.5 percent) trailed expense growth (8.5 percent). Distributions from the endowment — the source of nearly half of FAS's income — will grow negligibly for the foreseeable future. Given the fiscal outlook, Kirby confessed in the interview to "very significant worries about many of [our] ambitions."

"It is one thing to re-think fundamentally what we teach," his report concluded. "It is another, very good thing" to plan faculty appointments. "To imagine a new campus, even as we improve the old, is a third and considerable undertaking." To do all at once, relating each effort to the others, remaining "open to the most profound reconfigurations," is a high challenge, generational in ambition and opportunity. Proceeding successfully "calls upon our optimism, our open-mindedness, and our imagination."