Opening of Term Greetings 2002

TO: Students in Harvard College
FROM:  Harry R. Lewis
RE: Opening-of-Term Greetings
DATE: August 22, 2002

I'm writing under the Big Sky of northwest Montana, with the full moon as bright as a searchlight. I hope your summer has been a good one too! Harvard has been active in your absence, and I want to call your attention to changes and events of which you should be aware.

SEPTEMBER 11 The University observance of the anniversary of the tragedy of September 11, 2001, will be held in Tercentenary Theatre at noon on Wednesday, September 11. President Lawrence H. Summers will be the principal speaker. The bell of the Memorial Church will be joined by other traditional calls to worship including blasts on a shofar, or ram's horn, and the call of a muezzin, a prayer leader at the beginning of the proceedings. Following introductory remarks by Swami Tyagananda, president of the United Ministry at Harvard, readings from a number of traditions will be offered by students from Harvard College. A musical setting of texts from various traditions, composed by Carson Cooman '04, will be sung. Following President Summers' remarks, a period of silence will be punctuated by the tolling of the bell of the Memorial Church, Harvard's traditional observance for the dead.

IT'S MOVIE TIME AT HARVARD To celebrate the beginning of the new academic year, President Lawrence H. Summers has announced plans for It's Movie Time at Harvard, a free outdoor film screening to be held at 6:45pm on Sunday, September 22 in Tercentenary Theatre. The event will be open to the entire Harvard University community and their families.

The feature presentation for It's Movie Time at Harvard will be selected through a campus poll on September 13. The movie will be chosen from a shortlist of four, both new and old. The movie finalists are: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Casablanca, Men in Black, and North by Northwest. You may cast your vote at the Upperclass Activities Fair in Tercentenary Theatre between 10am and 2pm on Friday, September 13 by placing a Juju Bee in the jar corresponding to your movie choice. Results of the poll will be announced at on Monday, September 16.

Informal ground seating for It's Movie Time at Harvard will begin at 5:30pm in Tercentenary Theatre (between Memorial Church and Widener Library) on Sunday, September 22. The feature presentation will begin at approximately 6:45pm. Complimentary popcorn and sodas will be provided; no bottles or coolers will be permitted in the Theatre. For more information about the movie finalists and for information in case of inclement weather, visit

STUDY ABROAD Last spring, the Faculty adopted new guidelines for credit for work done abroad so that it is easier for students to include an international experience as part of their course work, particularly study in non-Anglophone countries. Students will no longer need to make a case that the work they will do abroad represents a "special opportunity." In addition, the language requirement for study in non-Anglophone countries has been reduced. While students planning to study in non-Anglophone countries are still encouraged to study a language of the host country before going abroad, this will no longer be formally required. Instead, as part of their academic program during each term abroad, students will ordinarily be expected to take either an appropriate language course or a course taught entirely in a language of the host country. Moreover, for a set of pre-approved programs, the process of requesting credit will be significantly simplified (though students will need to make a fuller case when proposing programs that are not already on Harvard's pre-approved list). Both to raise the profile of study abroad and better to integrate study abroad with academic programs at Harvard, the study abroad staff will move from the Office of Career Services to form a new office reporting to the Dean of Undergraduate Education. While the administrative change has already taken place, the physical move to new quarters will likely happen sometime during the fall term. Please consult the Harvard College web page,, or the Dean of Undergraduate Education's web page,, for information about the move of the office and other developments in this area. Meanwhile, if you are interested in studying abroad, consult the study abroad staff in their current offices (54 Dunster Street) and the concentrations to decide how best to integrate study abroad into your academic plans and to identify programs that meet your academic goals. You will also want to note that the Harvard Summer School has begun offering several courses abroad that are taught by members of the Harvard faculty.

THE CORE CURRICULUM REQUIREMENT In an effort to provide students with greater freedom in their academic work at Harvard, the Faculty decided to reduce the Core requirement from eight courses to seven. Each student will now be exempt from four areas of the Core curriculum, and the new listing of exemptions for each concentration is available on the Core office's web page,, and in the Handbook for Students. Continuing students may take advantage of this change if they wish, and there will be information about how to do so in the registration packet. In most cases, this involves simply filling out the form included in the packet, or the on-line version available on the Core office web page. Transfer students and students with Advanced Standing should consult directly with the Core office, and you should speak with your adviser about this before deciding which set of requirements is preferable.

GRADES AND HONORS Finally, at the end of last year the Faculty voted on a number of proposals affecting our grading and honors practices. The Faculty took into account the views of the various departments, as well as those of several groups of the Faculty concerned with undergraduate education, and considered as well the issues raised by students and faculty members of the Committee on Undergraduate Education who commented on an early version of the proposals. There are two main changes. First, beginning in September 2003, Harvard will no longer use its traditional 15-point scale for calculating cumulative grade point averages. Instead we will use the 4-point scale, the standard among American colleges. Second, beginning with students graduating in June 2005, Harvard will award degrees with honors to a percentage of the class, rather than determining honors principally by grade point averages, as has been the case in the past. Under the new system, Latin honors in a field (cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude) will be awarded to 50% of the graduating class, chosen on the basis of both recommendations from the concentrations and overall grade point averages. In addition, a small percentage of students will qualify for the degree cum laude on the basis of overall grade point average alone. English honors (honors, high honors, highest honors) will continue to be determined by the concentrations on the basis of the quality of student work within the field, including theses or senior projects, and both kinds of honors will continue to be noted on student transcripts. The details of this plan are described in the Handbook for Students and on the Dean of Undergraduate Education's web page,

THE LEANING COMMITTEE A student-faculty committee under the leadership of Dr. Jennifer Leaning, Professor of International Health in the Faculty of Public Health and Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine, has been appointed to study the issue of sexual assault at the College, make recommendations for educational and prevention programs designed to reduce the incidence of sexual violence, and improve institutional support services for victims of sexual assault. The Leaning Committee will be soliciting student feedback throughout the year. Visit for information about Committee membership and activities. You can email the Committee at

IMPROVEMENTS IN COMPUTER SERVICES Wireless is here! All House common areas, plus many libraries and other public areas on campus, now provide wireless connectivity, so you can connect to the Harvard network without plugging your computer into an Ethernet port. Other innovations: Web-based email enables you to use your FAS account with complete access to directories and enclosures. The FAS portal page has a new look, with easy access to email, calendar, etc., and instant notification of the arrival of new mail. And there is a brand-new computer lab in the basement of the Science Center - with all new equipment, and 24 more stations than before, as well as another 15 new stations in Loker Commons.

RACE RELATIONS AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION ISSUES IN THE HOUSES Last year a group of students under the auspices of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations proposed that I appoint someone to work with the Race Relations Tutors in the Houses to foster communication about race relations in the Houses and to help respond to racial incidents when they arise. I am delighted that Karen Avery, Assistant Dean of Harvard College and Director of the Ann Radcliffe Trust, has agreed to take on these responsibilities.

Dean Avery had been coordinating the work of the BGLTS (Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered Supporters) Advisers. I am happy to announce that Dr. Maria Trumpler, Allston Burr Senior Tutor in Quincy House and Lecturer in the History of Science, will assume those responsibilities for the future. Dean Avery will continue to coordinate the work of the SASH (Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment) Tutors.

Students may also wish to know that Dr. David Fithian, Assistant Dean of Harvard College and Secretary of the Administrative Board, serves as my Special Adviser on matters of sexual orientation. Both Dean Fithian and Dr. Trumpler are available to students who wish to discuss issues or concerns, individual or institutional, relating to sexual orientation.

NEW PRESCRIPTION DRUG BENEFIT An important new benefit has been added to the coverage provided under the Student Health Program: a prescription drug benefit. The coverage includes costs of prescription drugs, up to $3750 per academic year; you pay only a small co-payment ($10 for a month's supply of a generic drug, $20 for a brand-name drug). Full information is on the UHS website and in a UHS brochure, "What's New? Student and Affiliate Health Insurance."

HOUSING IMPROVEMENTS Two buildings, Wolbach and the Jordans, have been fully renovated over the summer (in remarkably short time for such major work). The College has also taken over most of the DeWolfe Street apartment building that was not already completely occupied by undergraduates. The net effect is the addition of 85 beds this fall; 19 more will be added a year from now. These new beds will not be used to add to the size of the College, but to create more comfortable conditions throughout the House system. The kitchens and serveries of the Quad Houses have been renovated and improved, and the Quad roadway has been made safer and more attractive.

OVERSTRESSED OVER STRESS? Stress often gets a bum rap, seen more as disruptive and destructive than as motivating. But a certain level of short-term stress is natural in unfamiliar situations, and drives us to rise to a difficult occasion and to perform our best work. Having gotten into Harvard, you are no stranger to stress, nor to the thrill of success when you have answered the challenge that confronted you.

But Harvard students complain of being "overwhelmed" on too regular a basis: a survey last year showed a third of students felt overwhelmed at least 11 times during the prior school year, an average of more than once a month. This sense of being intermittently overwhelmed probably arises from the impact of inescapable long-term stress (for example the serious illness of a parent), or unhelpful ways of handling everyday sources of stress --- perhaps ignoring or avoiding feelings in response to one's life experiences. In either case, you might consider talking out loud with an experienced professional that Harvard provides for your support, either at the Bureau of Study Counsel (5-2581) or at the Mental Health Service (5-2042). Both clinicians' experience and empirical research demonstrate consistently that counseling or psychotherapy has excellent and lasting positive outcomes, by providing the emotional support and opportunity for self-understanding that help one both adapt to and deal more effectively with stressful life circumstances. You don't need to have developed a "clinical disorder" such as depression or uncontrollable anxiety: as with physical problems, early intervention prevents later self-perpetuating misery. Especially in the young, even short-term counseling or therapy can change one's life for the better.

NEW RESIDENT DEANS We welcome these newly appointed Senior Tutors, all of whom will be teaching undergraduate courses alongside their roles as deans:

  • In Cabot House, Dr. Stephen Kargere, Lecturer on History and Literature, replaces Dr. Robert Neugeboren, who remains at Harvard, teaching courses in Economics.
  • In Currier House, Dr. Carole Mandryk takes over from Dr. Simon Steel, who has become Education Specialist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Dr. Mandryk continues to teach in the Anthropology department, where she also was Wing Tutor in Archaeology for several years.
  • In Dunster House, Ms. Paulette Curtis, Instructor on Anthropology, replaces Dr. John O'Keefe, who has become Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education.
  • In Kirkland House, Dr. Coral Fernandez-Illescas succeeds Dr. Timothy Harte, who has become Assistant Professor at Bryn Mawr College. Dr. Fernandez-Illescas is Lecturer on Engineering Sciences.
  • In Lowell House, Dr. Jay Ellison, Lecturer on Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, replaces Dr. Marshall Poe, who has taken a position at the Atlantic Monthly in Washington, DC.

We also welcome Dr. Lesley Nye as Assistant Dean of Freshmen, replacing Dr. Phil Bean, who has gone to Haverford College as Associate Dean.

I want to acknowledge the retirement from their deanships of Jeremy Knowles, formerly Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Susan Pedersen, Dean of Undergraduate Education, both of whom have returned to the Faculty after their dedicated service in University Hall. It has been a privilege for me to have worked with such energetic and able individuals. Taking up their responsibilities are William Kirby, Geisinger Professor of History, the new Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Benedict Gross, George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Mathematics, the new Dean of Undergraduate Education.

The attention given to grades and honors last year was meant to reserve the highest recognitions Harvard awards for the best work its students do, and to motivate students to extend themselves in order to do the best work of which they are individually capable. Yet in the reports written by the alumni/ae of the reunion classes last spring, there is little reference to their undergraduate academic achievements, and little of what our alumni/ae have achieved is attributed to the kind of individual pursuit of excellence that grades and honors are meant to inspire. We who are professional academics are perhaps uniquely reverent of individual genius and solitary achievement as the highest forms of excellence.

I hope that as you strive to be the "best that you can be" at Harvard, and to produce the most excellent work you can produce, you will also take it as an objective to get some practice in cooperation and teamwork. The art of persuading others of your ideas is an important skill; the capacity to be persuaded by the differing viewpoints of others is equally important; and better yet is the skill of working with others to produce a better result than any individual could have achieved alone. The less others resemble you and share your interests and background, the more you are likely to learn from trying to cooperate with them. Unless you become a professional scholar or artist (and perhaps not even then), little you do in later life will be best achieved by working under the conditions in which exams and term papers are usually written at Harvard --- in isolation and without collaboration.

Athletes experience teamwork daily; so do students putting on a play, or publishing a newspaper, or singing in a chorus. Few of our academic courses encourage teamwork, but those that do (including several I know about in Computer Science and Engineering) teach skills that students learn nowhere else. Look for your own opportunities, and don't lose sight of the fact that in trying to distinguish yourself from others by your hard work, you may not be doing yourself a favor if you don't learn to work with others.

My warmest good wishes to you as you start your Harvard year!