Stanford News

3/5/97

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Faculty Senate to discuss CIV replacement course

Sharp questions continue to be raised about a proposed replacement for the Cultures, Ideas and Values (CIV) program. At the same time, there is tempered support for some of the pedagogical goals of the Introduction to the Humanities course that will be discussed at the Faculty Senate meeting tomorrow.

The latest objections to the proposed freshman course were aired at a public meeting of the Committee on Undergraduate Studies (C-US) of the Faculty Senate on Feb. 26. Called by C-US chair Anne Fernald to solicit opinions from the university community, the 8 a.m. meeting drew almost 50 faculty and students.

Many of those who turned up were outspoken in their opposition to the draft legislation that was crafted by the CIV Design and Review Committee chaired by Rob Polhemus, professor of English. More than 30 lecturers and faculty members, representing almost half of CIV teachers, had signed a petition to C-US charging that the review committee violated the directives of the senate, and many of the signees were present at the meeting.

Fernald said she had referred the petition to the steering committee of the senate, and that committee had decided that C-US should go ahead with its deliberations on the proposed legislation. The senate also will discuss the draft legislation on March 6 in a session that is open to guests. Those interested in attending must contact Patricia Del-Pozzo, assistant academic secretary, at 723-4992.

"Our main goal will be to allow C-US to explain where things are in their reflections and to give senators a chance to raise questions, make comments and address issues that will help C-US in its further deliberations," Michael Bratman, chair of the Faculty Senate, said about the March 6 session. "Senators will have priority in having an opportunity to speak, and if there is time, guests of the senate may have a chance to speak briefly."

Many of the CIV faculty and lecturers who attended the Feb. 26 C-US meeting were visibly upset that Fernald used the first 20 minutes of the hour-long session to lay down the ground rules for the discussion and to ask CIV review committee member David Abernethy to summarize what she described as 15 "areas of agreement" among proponents and opponents of the proposals. Faculty members also objected later in the meeting when representatives of five of seven academic departments which are considering new thematic tracks used up another 15 minutes to describe their proposals.

Marsh McCall, the first faculty member to address the proposed legislation, told Fernald he would "not be muzzled."

"I'm going to speak for two minutes about what I came here to speak about," said the professor of classics and former chair of C-US, referring to the time limit Fernald had set on comments.

"Who in this room has ever heard of a program authorized by the Senate which is eliminated before it has ever had a chance to hear calls for reform [and] address them?" McCall asked.

Appealing to C-US members to observe their mandated responsibility, McCall said, "You have a sacred task to preserve the integrity and validity of the senate procedures, and this is under serious threat in the process that has gone on."

A similar objection to the review process was raised by Jim Chokey, a teaching assistant in the CIV humanities track. He said he had asked the four of the 18 members of the Polhemus committee who "bothered to show up" at a Jan. 24 meeting to point out which of the objectives of the proposed course could not be met with a "more modest" reform of CIV.

"There was no answer given," Chokey said.

"This [review committee] proposal seems to be assuming that CIV as such is unreformable," he added. "C-US should and must raise the question of whether or not these goals, which I believe are wholly meritorious, could be met with a much more modest structural reform of the existing program."

Concerns about the wording and intent of the draft legislation also were raised.

Kennell Jackson, associate professor of history, said he saw a retreat from "the breadth and diversity of books being taught" in CIV. Helen Brooks, coordinator of the CIV humanities track, said she was "puzzled" why there is no stipulation in the proposed document, as there is in the CIV legislation, about multicultural perspectives and attention to issues of gender, race, religion and social identity.

CIV review committee member John Bender said those issues are addressed in the preamble, but Jackson was not convinced.

"The preamble cannot do the work of the actual, specific requirements because students will read those and know those and will cite those back to us," Jackson said.

Ron Rebholz, director of Writing and Critical Thinking, said that a proposal to link the writing requirement of his program to a new humanities course would be "impossible." Noting losses in continuity of instruction and attention to the ancient world under the draft legislation, he argued that "nothing is gained with this new proposal."

Jonathan Reider, a lecturer in the Structured Liberal Education track of CIV for more than 20 years, addressed his remarks to C-US committee members:

"You're being asked to buy a pig in a poke, to buy something that has no content," Reider said.

The proposed legislation abandons thematic coherence "on behalf of a kind of Baskin Robbins-ization of the curriculum," he added. "Let anybody teach whatever they want ­ that's the level of thinking that we're at, putting books together and saying, 'These books make a course.'"

But Ramón Saldívar, vice provost for undergraduate education and ex officio member of both the CIV review committee and C-US, said that "the question of pedagogy" was "one of the fundamental issues that has driven the reform."

Saldívar said the proposed legislation would require faculty to meet together to discuss teaching strategies.

"In my experience, as a member of CIV and as a cognizant dean for the program for the last three years, I have not once experienced a conversation among the CIV teachers where they think through issues of pedagogy and interrelationship among the various tracks," Saldívar said.

His remarks drew a sharp response from Carolyn Lougee Chappell, chair of the CIV history track.

"That last point took my breath away," she said.

Paul Seaver, professor of history and director of CIV, also disagreed with Saldívar's statement after the meeting. After CIV was launched, Seaver said, faculty gathered annually for three years to discuss pedagogical issues at three- and four-day symposia funded by the dean's office. When funding for those symposia was cut, CIV teachers were invited to meet for one year in the home of former university President Donald Kennedy. For the past four years, pedagogy workshops for new CIV instructors have been sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning, and last September CIV also co-sponsored, with CTL and the Program in Feminist Studies, a workshop on "Engendering the Curriculum," Seaver said.

Contending that not enough time had been provided for discussion of the draft legislation at the C-US meeting, Lougee Chappell addressed most of her remarks to the "process of change" outlined by the CIV review committee.

"[It] is extremely radical, and we have not made a change like that before," she said. "If we go to the transition the committee has suggested, we make the decision first and then we try out the courses."

A former dean of undergraduate studies and senior associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, Lougee Chappell has proposed to C-US a pilot program that would continue the strongest of the current CIV tracks and gradually replace weak tracks with the kinds of courses that have been proposed by the CIV review committee.

Although she has been an outspoken critic of the process that led to the draft legislation and of its suggested implementation, Lougee Chappell said she is enthusiastic about the learning that could take place in a revitalized humanities program.

"I think it looks really interesting," she said about "Introduction to the Humanities: Religion, Technology, Empire" in an interview after the meeting. The review committee's prototype course for a big autumn-quarter lecture course would require students to study five texts: Dante's Inferno, Leon-Portilla's Broken Spears, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. All of the texts, except the García Márquez novel, are currently taught in CIV tracks.

"I could quibble with certain parts of it ­ there's no consideration of issues of gender, there's no minority voice ­ but I think it's a potentially workable course and I'd like to see it tried out," Lougee Chappell said.

As for the new thematic tracks that have been described by faculty representatives of the departments of Slavic languages, comparative literature, Asian languages, classics and the program in history and philosophy of science, Lougee Chappell said they sounded "very hopeful."

"I'm far from saying there's as much energy and rethinking in the CIV program as there ought to be," she noted. "The very existence of new faculty in the program would have an energizing effect on the continuing faculty and the infusion of some new courses and formats could help to regenerate the whole program.

"I just don't think you kill the old [CIV] program before you see whether the new idea actually works in practice."

The first paragraph of the draft legislation for the proposed Introduction to the Humanities course cites a desire to "make a valuable program better" and to "build on the manifest successes and excellence in the current program." There also are calls in the document for smaller class size, emphasis on close reading of texts and more time for discussion ­ at least three hours per week.

"Fabulous," Lougee Chappell said of the extended discussion time. "We've always wished that we could have three hours in a section, and we would be so advantaged in terms of getting students to find their voices and learn to talk about texts and intellectual issues.

"There's no question that more discussion time is a key to quality improvement, but again, it is not intrinsically tied to the new course format."

A book that the staff regularly recommends to faculty also supports many of the draft legislation's provisions. The authors of Teaching College Freshmen suggest that seminar discussions designed for between 12 and 15 students, and which include writing-to-learn exercises and questions that stimulate thinking with specific problems, are "most likely to sustain interest and appeal to a variety of learning styles."

Those are some of the strategies that are taught in the annual fall workshops CTL sponsors for new instructors of CIV.

"The focus is definitely on pedagogy," Michele Marincovich, director of CTL, said about the half-day sessions.

A 1990 study, "The Harvard Assessment Seminars," found that "few students, if any, have [discussion] skills when they arrive" as freshmen, however. And that's the issue that concerns Lougee Chappell, who has taught 18-year-olds for 23 years.

While faculty in the humanities may thrive on multidimensional approaches to texts ­ studying 12th-century scholasticism along with Gothic architecture ­ she says that students "get very, very anxious when you do that, and they just want to know what a text is about."

C-US members,