Stanford News

5/6/97

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Legislation to replace CIV headed for approval

With some senators questioning the shift in emphasis from content to methodology, and others defending it, proposed legislation for a new Introduction to the Humanities program appears to be headed for final approval of the Faculty Senate on May 15.

Discussion at the May 1 senate meeting was low-key, with none of the heated rhetoric that had marked earlier deliberations about the required year-long freshman course designed to replace the program in Cultures, Ideas and Values (CIV).

Anne Fernald, associate professor of psychology and chair of the senate's Committee on Undergraduate Studies (C-US), traced the process by which her committee had discussed and then revised the legislation that had been forwarded by the CIV Design and Review Committee, chaired by Rob Polhemus, professor of English.

"We did concur in general with the recommended changes and the spirit of those changes, but introduced some important revisions," Fernald said.

The concerns C-US members heard in preliminary senate discussions and in meetings with faculty and students centered on five issues, Fernald said. They were coherence and continuity, commitment to diversity, pedagogy, evaluation and oversight, and the transition period to a new program.

Fernald said the new legislation "strengthens the continuity that exists" by encouraging strong CIV tracks to continue, as long as they adapt to the new format by reducing the number of texts studied, emphasizing discussion of those texts and developing a multidisciplinary fall-quarter teaching team.

Acknowledging that the new legislation is "much less prescriptive" than the CIV document, Fernald said commitment to diversity was spelled out in its preamble. In addition, she noted that "new curricular opportunities" that had been introduced after the 1988 CIV legislation was implemented, including requirements in American cultures, world cultures and gender studies, also addressed issues of diversity for freshmen.

Fernald said the proposed legislation emphasizes pedagogy by requiring regular communication between faculty and lecturers, and strengthens evaluation and oversight of the Area One requirement.

Regarding the transition period from CIV to Introduction to the Humanities, Fernald said the C-US committee is still considering proposals and would be prepared to discuss them at the May 15 meeting of the senate.

David Abernethy, professor of political science and a member of the CIV review committee, read from a prepared statement that examined the "difference in emphasis and tone" between the CIV legislation and that proposed for Introduction to the Humanities. The central difference, he said, "is signaled by the more frequent use of the word 'human'" and "less reliance on the term 'culture.'"

Although the CIV legislation had mandated "substantial attention to the issues of race, gender and class," Abernethy argued that those "aspects of the human condition" had been unduly privileged over an individual's identity, religious beliefs, ties to kin groups, locality, nationality, generation and occupational group.

"I believe that our entering students should reflect thoughtfully on how they differ from each other and on the many things they have in common by virtue of being human," he said.

Marsh McCall, professor of classics, and John Perry, professor of philosophy, who had been outspokenly critical of the proposed legislation in the past, expressed support for it at the meeting. McCall, in a letter addressed to Fernald, said a "necessary amount of flexibility" had been introduced in the legislation and he now was willing to "join in and work to make the C-US proposal as successful as we can for all our students."

Perry complimented C-US on "preserving the good parts" of CIV. He said he still wished the name of the program did not have to be changed, and pleaded, tongue-in-cheek, for a footnote to be added to the legislation that would stipulate that evaluation of the new program would happen "no more than once before Perry retires."

Michael Kirst, professor of education, raised a more serious objection when he asked for clarification of the curricular content of the new program.

"I'm trying to distinguish what curricular content statement you're making about what knowledge is worth knowing," he said. Referring to the section of the legislation that describes the objectives of the required freshman course as introducing "first-year students to the nature and range of inquiry and diverse modes of understanding and representation found in the humanities," Kirst said that struck him as "very general" and "very vague," even when compared with similar statements written by elementary and secondary schools.

"Is [the document] really the statement of Stanford as to what knowledge is most worth knowing in the humanities?" he asked. "That would be our official statement?"

Steven Chaffee, professor of communication, spoke to a similar point, suggesting that the legislation represented "an historic shift from a common body of content to a common methodology of inquiry."

Keith Baker, professor of history and a member of C-US, agreed with Chaffee's characterization, noting that the proposed legislation is a revision that tries to "shift from a specification of content to an emphasis on the kinds of inquiry that are involved in the humanities." But Baker added that the new structure was designed to provide more coherence overall by teaching students how to analyze and place texts in context in the first quarter and apply those skills in thematic courses in the second and third quarters.

Questions also were raised by Helen Brooks, a senior lecturer in humanities and English and member of the Area One review committee, who had been invited to the meeting. Drawing on 17 years of experience teaching in CIV and the former Western Culture program, Brooks said she was concerned about the size of the proposed autumn-quarter lecture course and the lack of inclusiveness in the legislation. If close reading of texts were a goal of the new program, Brooks said, she thought it would be more challenging to lay the groundwork for that in a lecture class of 250 students.

Addressing the decision not to include mention of teaching about issues of race, gender and class, Brooks said, "My own personal feeling is that inclusiveness should be part of the formal legislation of this requirement," and not simply defined in the preamble to the document.

Brooks also interpreted students' criticism of "tokenism" and "snippets" in CIV courses differently from members of the C-US and CIV review committees.

"A recurring criticism is that the current CIV is not doing an adequate job in addressing non-Western issues, and issues of gender and ethnicity," Brooks said. "[But] the criticism of tokenism, to me, is symptomatic of the fact that students want to explore these issues in more depth."

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By Diane Manuel