With Gen Ed Transition in Flux, Upperclassmen Offer Mixed Reactions

When Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved a revamped General Education program in March 2016, University President Drew G. Faust hailed it as a “historic moment.” The overhauled program, scheduled to take full effect in fall 2018, will replace a Gen Ed curriculum described in a 2015 FAS report as “failing on a variety of fronts.”

But for students currently attending the College, the gradual move to the new program has been less momentous. Among current juniors and seniors straddling the transition between the old and new Gen Ed programs, the changes have been met with a range of reactions.

The overhauled Gen Ed program will require students to complete classes in four new Gen Ed categories, fulfill a distribution requirement, and take one numerical reasoning-based course. For the Classes of 2017 and 2018, though, the old requirements are still in place—though the selection of classes that count for Gen Ed credit has expanded to allow those students to “benefit from the spirit of the new program,” according to the Gen Ed website.

Over the summer of 2016, the Office of Undergraduate Education retroactively changed some students’ academic records so that courses previously not listed as Gen Ed courses now fulfilled requirements.

“The vast majority of juniors and seniors have a lot more flexibility than they had before, and we have heard from many of them who are really happy with how the transition is going,” Stephanie H. Kenen, Administrative Director of the Program in General Education, wrote in an emailed statement.


But some students—including Daniel V. Banks ’17, a former Undergraduate Council Vice President—said the change penalizes students who fulfilled their Gen Ed requirements before the change.

“They reward people who did not do their requirements earlier on in their college career,” Banks said. “I would have had a few more classes at Harvard that were actually important to me and educationally fulfilling, and instead I was retroactively told that what I did two years ago was a waste of time.”

Others, including Liz Kantor ’18, said their records had not changed under the new system.

“Before the transition, I had six Gen Eds and I have two left to do, so it hasn’t really affected me at all, “ Kantor said.

“Obviously, I want to take fewer Gen Eds,” she added.

Kenen acknowledged that some upperclassmen would not benefit from the changes, but said the Gen Ed office wanted to begin implementing the new program as quickly as possible.

“There are, however, some juniors and seniors who had already fulfilled most of their Gen Ed requirements,” Kenen wrote. “ They, unfortunately, cannot benefit from the same flexibility as some of their peers.”

Though Mary Jiang ’17 said the Gen Ed changes had not impacted her academic record, she added that she hopes future students will continue to take classes outside of their comfort zones under the new program.

“I’m guessing the administration wants to make it more flexible students for students. I really hope that doesn’t come at the cost of students not being required to confront classes they haven’t wanted to take before,” Jiang said.

Sean J. Kinyon ’18 said he was optimistic about the new Gen Ed curriculum, praising the new program for allowing students to take divisional classes to fulfill requirements.

“I think it’s really cool to provide some more flexibility for kids so that they can stay within their comfort realm but study it within other realms as well,” Kinyon said.

—Edith M. Herwitz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @edith_herwitz.