"Why Harvard Needs to Get Harder" by Christian Flow '10. Excerpt:
Harvard would be doing its students a favor by holding them more accountable academically—or at least finding a way to ensure that courses, across the board, match the demands and intensity of the extracurricular organizations where so much undergraduate time is currently spent. It’s always struck me as odd that a place notorious for its hard-nosed exam-period threats to hold students “incommunicado” in their hospital beds if they become ill during a test could allow students to take such liberties with its syllabi.
But that is the present reality. It’s largely a matter of incentives. Collegiality, social currency, influence—all these things are to be found more easily in an extracurricular setting than in satisfying course requirements. And as far as day-to-day disincentives for underperformance are concerned, student organizations take the cake. Skip your reading for a section and risk an awkward moment with a teaching fellow. Skip out on your responsibilities for an extracurricular, and risk derision or excommunication by your peers: You’re lazy. You’re not willing to sacrifice like everybody else. You’re a flake. That’s accountability. That is personal. Those who say that it’s up to students to make sure they are having a challenging academic experience miss the point: engaging meaningfully with course material shouldn’t be an option; it should be demanded across the board. There must be keener reasons to treat assignments seriously; keener deterrents for not doing so. Otherwise extracurricular commitments will rule the day, and students’ academic experience will suffer.