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Stanford Report, January 6, 1999

New office to focus on undergrads; expansion planned for Sophomore College


Stanford is signaling a continued commitment to undergraduate education with the formation of a new vice provost's office and the expansion of the highly popular Sophomore College program.

While Stanford has had a vice provost for undergraduate education since 1995 -- a post currently filled by Ramon Saldívar -- until this year the office had no separate staff and fell within the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Beginning last fall, the operation became an autonomous unit in the President's and Provost's Office. Saldívar said the autonomy is important for both practical and symbolic reasons.

"It allows for one central office to coordinate the efforts of the three undergraduate schools to provide the best possible lower-division and upper-level curricula that Stanford can offer to all of its undergraduates," he said. "Symbolically, it represents the institutional acceptance of the centrality of undergraduate education to the total research and learning mission of the university in a synthesis of knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination."

As an example of that commitment, Sophomore College -- a two-week academic program offered before the beginning of the fall quarter -- will expand this September from 27 to 35 seminars, boosting its enrollment from 320 to 420 students. Last year, demand far exceeded the available spaces, said Ellen Woods, associate vice provost for undergraduate education.

The seminars, which meet five mornings a week for two weeks, are limited to 12 students each. Students live together in Sophomore College dorms and benefit from close interaction with faculty, while earning 1 to 2 units of academic credit. In the afternoons, students attend workshops to learn about undergraduate research and other opportunities they can take advantage of during the school year.

There is no additional tuition or room-and-board charge for Sophomore College. In the first three years of the program, 100 percent of participating students said they would recommend the program to future sophomores.

"The students in Sophomore College really get jazzed to take advantage of the rest of the year," Woods said, adding that students often continue to meet with their Sophomore College professors during the academic year.

With the expansion of Sophomore College, every sophomore will now have the opportunity either to participate in the college or to take a limited-enrollment sophomore seminar, she said.

Saldívar's new office receives proposals from academic departments on the offerings they plan for Sophomore College, freshman seminars, and sophomore seminars and dialogues. The authority to review the offerings came as part of an arrangement providing departments with new academic billets to meet the new commitment for undergraduate education, a top priority of President Gerhard Casper.

"There is some central management," Woods said. "We want, for example, to make sure a department doesn't want to offer all its courses in the first quarter."

The office also coordinates the Area One Introduction to the Humanities offerings and is responsible for ensuring that courses meet the academic requirements set by the Faculty Senate. The office recruits faculty and hires lecturers.

Also under the office's aegis are student academic support offices, which include the Undergraduate Advising Center and Undergraduate Research Opportunities. Writing in the Major, Honors College and Summer Science Fellowships also fall under the office's purview.

"Our management structure previously was not set up for a hands-on management role," Woods said. "Now, our financial planning and accounting structure has enabled us to be an efficient and effective manager of resources for investments in undergraduate education. We're able to be more nimble. We can reallocate resources more easily and continue to innovate."

The new office and the strengthened Sophomore College program continue to build on the implementation of a 1994 report issued by the Commission on Undergraduate Education, a panel appointed by Casper. Appointment of a vice provost for undergraduate education was a key recommendation of the commission "to represent the needs and interests of undergraduates at the center of university governance." SR