The Faculty of Arts and Sciences

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences includes Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. As with each of the nine faculties of the University, the chief administrative officer of the FAS is its Dean. The Dean oversees both financial and academic planning for the Faculty as well as its many libraries, museums, laboratories, and centers.*  The Dean is advised by an eighteen-member Faculty Council elected by and from the officers of the FAS.

Distinguishing features of Harvard College that involve the direct participation of faculty members are the House System, the Program in General Education, and the Freshman Seminar Program.

The House System

From the beginning of their presidency, A. Lawrence Lowell aspired to create a residential system for Harvard College modeled on Oxford and Cambridge Universities. In 1928 the generous gift of a Yale alumnus, Edward S. Harkness, made that ambition a reality. Three entirely new Houses were constructed, and four others created from existing residential halls, establishing the nucleus of the current House system. 

All Harvard students have a residentially-based affiliation. The first-year students live in dormitories located within or adjacent to Harvard Yard. During their first year in the College they are advised by the Resident Deans of First-Year Students, housed in the First Year Experience Office, (FYE) a unit within the Dean of Students Office (DSO). First-year students are organized into 4 Yards – Elm, Crimson, Oak, and Ivy. Most upper-level students (sophomores, juniors, and seniors) live in the 12 residential Houses, each of which also includes a dining hall, a library, and a variety of activities designed to foster the easy mix of social and intellectual life that President Lowell envisaged for the House system. For example, the Houses may offer seminars for course credit. They routinely sponsor language tables and tables where students interested in a specific pursuit can gather to exchange ideas. Every year the Houses hold faculty dinners to permit undergraduates to invite their instructors for an evening of relaxed conversation and, conversely, to provide faculty members with a means to meet their students informally and learn more about their curricular and extracurricular lives.  For students choosing to live off-campus, the Dudley Community provides academic and personal support for members of the Dudley Co-op, off-campus students, and for Visiting Undergraduate Students (VUS). The Houses, the FYE and Dudley are affiliated with the Dean of Students Office. 

Harvard is engaged in an exciting large-scale effort to renew the Houses through full renovation of the buildings. House Renewal aims not only to improve conditions through renovation, but also to change how the physical spaces function to meet programmatic priorities in the residential experience. House affiliation is an important part of student identity, and each House provides students with diverse and vibrant residential communities that are cornerstones of a Harvard education. 

Each House is overseen by Faculty Deans, usually a senior faculty member or senior administrator and partner or spouse who live in residence and is also served by an Allston Burr Resident Dean. The first-year students are divided into 4 Yards (Ivy, Crimson, Elm, and Oak), which are overseen by 4 Resident Deans of First-Year Students (one per Yard) and the Senior Assistant Dean of First-Year Students. The Dudley Community also has an Allston Burr Resident Dean who supports that community. Other House staff include House Administrators (responsible for the operations and programming of the House) and the Academic Coordinators (who work closely with the Resident Deans). 

The Resident Deans advise students in their respective units on academic and personal matters and represent their affiliated undergraduate members at the Administrative Board meetings. (Instructors concerned for whatever reason about the performance or wellbeing of an undergraduate should contact the appropriate Allston Burr Resident Dean or Resident Dean of First Year Students.**) Also integral to the life of these communities are the Resident Tutors and Proctors (Proctors are specific to first-year students), who serve as social and academic advisers to the undergraduate residents of the House. They may in some cases serve as concentration advisers to the undergraduates, and they also fill a variety of administrative roles in the House and Dudley. (Graduate students from the various Faculties may apply to the Faculty Deans for these positions beginning in January.) 

Faculty members, administrators, Cambridge community members, and visiting scholars are eligible for affiliation with the individual Houses and comprise the Senior Common Room. Participation in a Senior Common Room affords individuals the opportunity not only to meet people from other departments but also to communicate with undergraduates in the casual atmosphere of the House dining rooms or at the varied House functions. 

**For further discussion of this point see the Handbook for Students which provides extensive discussion of the procedures of the Administrative Board. 

The Program in General Education 

The Program in General Education is the cornerstone of the Harvard College curriculum. Focusing on urgent problems and enduring questions, Gen Ed courses are unusually explicit in connecting the subjects studied to the people students will become and the world beyond the classroom. Transcending disciplinary divisions, they demonstrate the value of embedding what is learned in concentrations within the broader context of the liberal arts. In Gen Ed courses, students engage in activities that have the potential to shape the world around them.

The Program requires that students complete one course in each of the following four categories:

  • Aesthetics & Culture
  • Ethics & Civics
  • Histories, Societies, Individuals
  • Science & Technology in Society

One of these courses may, with the permission of the instructor, be taken Pass/Fail.

To locate General Education courses, search “General Education” at or visit Faculty interested in proposing a course for General Education or with questions about the program should visit, or contact the General Education Office at or 617-495-2563.

The Freshman Seminar Program

Inaugurated as an experiment in 1959, and formally established by a vote of the faculty in 1963, the Freshman Seminar Program fosters intimate and engaging interaction between first-year students and faculty as they explore together topics of mutual interests. Freshman Seminars are small discussion-based courses, designed to provide a unique setting for students to deepen existing interests and discover unfamiliar fields. They are offered by faculty across the University, and ordinarily involve one faculty instructor and twelve First-Year Students meeting weekly for 2-3 hours. Many Freshman Seminars include special instructional activities—such as lab or studio work, field trips, concerts, or exhibitions—that enhance the learning experience. Freshman Seminars are not letter graded, and they count as a four-credit course. Admission to a Freshman Seminar is by application prior to the semester in which it is offered. First-Year Students are eligible to enroll in two Freshman Seminars, one in each term. For more information about the Freshman Seminar Program, please consult the website: .

*Services shared by all nine faculties of the University such as food services, health services, police, fiscal services, and facilities maintenance are administered by the Office of the President.

**For further discussion of this point see the Handbook for Students which provides extensive discussion of the procedures of the Administrative Board.