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Senate considers new breadth requirements

Following the recommendations of the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford, the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy has proposed that the university move to a non-disciplinary model of breadth requirements.

The Faculty Senate on Thursday will consider two proposals designed to implement the non-disciplinary model of breadth requirements – Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing – recommended in the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES).

Currently, Stanford undergraduates fulfill breadth requirements by taking courses (one each) in engineering and applied science; humanities; mathematics; natural sciences; and social sciences. In addition, they are required to take two courses in "Education for Citizenship," choosing from ethical reasoning, global community, American cultures and gender studies. (Students can double count some courses in the Disciplinary Breadth and Education for Citizenship areas.)

The 128-page SUES Report, which was released in January, includes a chapter, Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing: Fostering Breadth, which describes the committee's rationale for moving to a new, non-disciplinary system of breadth requirements.

"Rather than prescribing courses in particular disciplinary areas, our new model promotes the acquisition and development of seven essential capacities," the report says.

Judith Goldstein, chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy (C-USP), which was charged with translating the SUES recommendations into university legislation, will present Proposed University Breadth Requirements.

In that proposal, C-USP recommends that, beginning with the Class of 2017, students must complete one course in each of eight Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing categories:

  • Aesthetic and interpretive inquiry
  • Social inquiry
  • Scientific analysis
  • Formal reasoning
  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Engaging difference
  • Moral and ethical reasoning
  • Creative expression

In an April 17 memo to the Faculty Senate, Goldstein, the Janet M. Peck Professor of International Communication, said C-USP, after much deliberation, decided to reduce the number of required courses to eight, from the 11 courses recommended in the original SUES Report. Goldstein cited two key reasons for the decision.

"The committee's members defended fewer formal [breadth] requirements, both because of the demands of many departments and programs, and also to encourage more experimentation and choice," the memo said.

"The committee could find no clear rationale for why certain categories had more courses required than others, given the organization into [seven essential] capacities and not [academic]disciplines. If students need to be exposed to an approach, why privilege one more than the next?"

A second proposal, Proposed Amendment to the C-USP Proposal on the Breadth Requirement, will be presented by Chris Edwards, a professor of mechanical engineering, and Caroline Hoxby, a professor of economics and the Scott and Donya Bommer Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Their proposal, which mirrors the recommendations in the original SUES Report, recommends that, beginning with the Class of 2017, students must complete 11 courses distributed over seven Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing categories.

The Edwards/Hoxby proposal, which has received the unanimous endorsement of the SUES Committee, prescribes the number of courses required in each category:

  • Aesthetic and interpretive inquiry (two courses)
  • Social inquiry (two courses)
  • Scientific analysis (two courses)
  • Formal and quantitative reasoning (two courses)
  • Engaging difference (one course)
  • Moral and ethical reasoning (one course)
  • Creative expression (one course)

Under the Edwards/Hoxby proposal, a Thinking Matters course (approved by the senate last month as a new, one-quarter requirement for freshmen) may satisfy a breadth requirement if it has been certified for that purpose by a governance board.

Under both proposals, all courses must be taken for a grade, except creative expression; all courses must be at least three units, except creative expression, which can be two units; students will not be allowed to double count a course; a single course should not normally be certified in more than two categories; and students will not be allowed to use Advanced Placement or other course credit to satisfy breadth requirements.

Each proposal contains detailed descriptions of the rationale for each category included in the Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing model, as well as the "learning outcomes" in each category.

For instance, both proposals agree that students taking a course in social inquiry should:

  • Be able to apply the methods of research and inquiry from at least one social science discipline to the study of human experience.
  • Understand what makes a question about human behavior empirically tractable and significant.
  • Exhibit a capacity to think historically, recognizing the reciprocal relationship of social context and individual action and the reality of change over time.
  • Possess the capacity to critically evaluate primary and secondary source materials, and to use both to fashion explanations for social and historical phenomena.

All of the documents are available on the Faculty Senate website.

The senate meeting will begin at 3:15 p.m. in Room 180 of the Law School. Discussion is limited to members of the senate, but members of the Stanford community may request to attend the meeting by contacting the Academic Secretary's Office at 723-4992 or Trish Del Pozzo at delpozzo@stanford.edu.