Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

News Briefs

March-April 2016

An Overseers’ Challenge?

On February 1, Ron Unz ’83 delivered petitions for himself and four other candidates seeking places on the ballot for the annual election of new members to Harvard’s Board of Overseers. (The list of Harvard Alumni Association nominees appears here.)

Under the theme, “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard,” the petitioners advocate “greater transparency” in admissions, a message coupled with language about “abuses” in admissions and “powerful statistical evidence” of a quota that limits admission of Asians—leading to their statement, “Racial discrimination against Asian-American students has no place at Harvard University and must end.” They also “demand the immediate elimination of all tuition for undergraduates,” citing both income from the endowment and the notion that moving from financial aid to a tuition-free model would more readily promote diversity in the student body. A detailed report on Harvard’s admissions and student-diversity policies, its finances, and the petitioners’ arguments appears here.

If the petitioners qualify for the ballot, an announcement with the full list of candidates is expected in mid February, after this issue of the magazine was printed; the outcome will be noted online at harvardmagazine.com toward the end of February, and printed in the May-June issue. Updated February 20, 2016: The petition candidates qualified for the ballot, according to a University announcement; the full slate of candidates is published here.

Reenvisioning Admissions

The Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project (which seeks to “develop effective strategies for promoting in children kindness and a commitment to the greater good”) has addressed the cutthroat arena of college admissions. “Turning the Tide,” a report released in January, proposes reworking admissions to promote ethical engagement among applicants, reduce excessive pressure for achievement, and create a fairer process for economically disadvantaged students.

It recommends that students participate in authentic service or community engagement—lasting at least a year, and including such contributions as working to provide income for one’s family (a leveling step that recognizes diverse student circumstances). It also recommends that students go beyond individual service to collective action that addresses community challenges, exposing them to the emotional and problem-solving aspects of teamwork. The report urges institutions to state clearly their interest in the quality of applicants’ activities, not their quantity, and to put their use of standardized tests in the evaluation process into context. The recommendations arose from a meeting of admissions officers, counselors, and others; they have been endorsed by admissions officers from dozens of institutions, including Brown, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.

General Education, Downsized

The proposed revision of the College’s General Education curriculum reached the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) for debate on February 2. Compared to the program outlined in December, this version, on which FAS members will vote later this term, further eases course requirements.

If enacted, undergraduates will take four Gen Ed courses (down from eight now), each “explicitly designed to prepare students for a life of civic and ethical engagement in a changing world.” They will fall into four broadened categories: Aesthetics, Culture, Intepretation; Histories, Societies, Individuals; Science and Technology in Society; and Ethics and Civics. Students will also have to fulfill a distribution requirement, taking a course each in arts and humanities; social science; and science and engineering—but one of these may be from their concentration (flexibilitythe December proposal did not permit). And they face a new Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning requirement. If a student were to place out of that (the course remains to be defined by a separate committee) and use a concentration course for distributional purposes, she would reduce her requirements for Gen Ed plus distribution to six term-length classes.

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