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 his 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 upperclassmen have a House affiliation. (The freshmen live in dormitories located within or adjacent to Harvard Yard. During their first year in the College they are advised by the Freshman Dean's Office.) Most upperclassmen live in the Houses, each of which also affords a dining room, 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. (See Freshman and House Seminars) They routinely sponsor language tables and tables where students interested in a specific pursuit can gather to exchange ideas. Every term 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.

Each House is overseen by resident Faculty Deans, usually a senior faculty member or senior administrator and partner or spouse, and is also served by an Allston Burr Assistant Dean. The Assistant Dean for each House advises students in the House on academic and personal matters and represents House members at the Administrative Board. (Instructors concerned for whatever reason about the performance or well being of an undergraduate should contact the appropriate Allston Burr Assistant Dean or Resident Dean of Freshmen.**) Also integral to the life of the House are the Resident Tutors, 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. (Graduate students from the various Faculties may apply to the Faculty Deans for these positions beginning in late February.)

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 make contact with undergraduates in the casual atmosphere of the House dining rooms or at the varied House functions.  

The Program in General Education

Based on recommendations from the General Education Review Committee‘s Final Report, in March 2016 the faculty approved new Liberal Arts and Sciences curriculum requirements, which include new General Education requirements.  These new requirements will be adopted in Fall 2018.  See the Program Renewal page of the Gen Ed website to learn more.  The current requirements are described below. 

The Program in General Education seeks to connect in an explicit way what students learn in the classroom to the lives they will lead after college. The material taught in General Education courses is continuous with the material taught in the rest of the curriculum, but the approach is different. These courses aim not to draw students into a discipline, but to bring the disciplines into students' lives. The Program introduces students to subject matter and skills from across the University, and does so in ways that link the arts and sciences with the 21st century world that students will face. General Education seeks explicitly to “connect a student’s liberal education—that is, an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry, rewarding in its own right—to life beyond college.” In addition, the Program seeks to provide new opportunities for students to learn—and for faculty to teach—in ways that cut across traditional departmental and intra-University lines.

The Program requires that students pass one letter-graded course in each of the following eight categories. Additionally, one of these eight courses must engage substantially with the Study of the Past:

  • Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding
  • Culture and Belief
  • Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning
  • Ethical Reasoning
  • Science of Living Systems
  • Science of the Physical Universe
  • Societies of the World
  • United States in the World

To locate General Education courses and department courses that receive General Education credit, search General Education courses at 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 freshmen 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 freshmen 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. Freshmen 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.