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Stanford Report, March 8, 2000

Faculty Senate Minutes



At its meeting on Thursday, March 2, 2000, the Senate of the Academic Council heard reports and took the following action:

1. 1. By voice vote, with one abstention, and as recommended by the Committee on Graduate Studies, the Senate reauthorized the Committee in Charge of the Program in Modern Thought and Literature to nominate candidates for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees for a period of four years, from September 1, 2001 through August 31, 2005. An interim report as specified by the Committee on Graduate Studies was required by the end of Winter Quarter 2001/2002.

Susan W. Schofield

Academic Secretary to the University


Call to Order

Senate Chair Mark Zoback called the Senate meeting to order at 3:18 p.m. in Room 180 of the Law School. There were 38 voting members, 9 ex-officio members, and a number of guests in attendance.

Approval of Minutes

The minutes of the February 17, 2000 Senate meeting (SenD#5050) were approved as submitted.

Memorial Resolution

The Chair recognized Professor Rob Polhemus to present a brief memorial statement in honor of Ian Watt, on behalf of a committee consisting of himself and Professors Bliss Carnochan and Terry Castle. The full text of the resolution was included in Senate packets and will be published in the Stanford Report. Following the memorial statement, members of the Senate stood for the traditional moment of silence.

Ian Watt, the Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of English emeritus, in the School of Humanities and Sciences, first director of the Stanford Humanities Center, and the author of many influential books and articles, died in Menlo Park on December 13, 1999. His academic career of international distinction and enduring importance was early on interrupted by World War II when Watt was wounded, captured, but lived and survived as a prisoner of war in the labor camps on the River Kwai. His best-known book, The Rise of the Novel, is generally acknowledged to be one of the most influential books of literary criticism written in the twentieth century. No modern work has been more important in generating the critical study of the novel and, even more significantly, explaining the problematic relationship of fiction to life. Those who knew Ian remember his courage and tenacity, his energy, his kindness, and his sometimes-devastating candor. Watt once said, insisting that he was being hard-headed, not sentimental, that he was sure that, in his World War II internment, it was the fact that works of literature existed and could still touch his mind ­ and his awareness of what that fact said about humanity ­ that made it possible for him to survive his prison camp experience. No wonder that the dynamic of his work would become the desire to expose the play between literary texts and reality beyond those texts, and to know the processes that unite "fiction" and "life." The founder of the Stanford Humanities Center was one of the greatest humanists in this university's history

Report from the Senate Steering Committee

Zoback strongly encouraged all members of the Academic Council to vote in the elections for Senate XXXIII and those in Law, Business, Education, and H & S ­ Sciences to vote in the Advisory Board round one elections as well. He reminded everyone that the Senate meeting would end early, followed by the annual meeting of the Academic Council at 4:15 p.m. There was no report from the Committee on Committees. The President and the Provost said that they had no reports or announcements, and there were no questions put to them.

Renewal of the Interdisciplinary Program in Modern Thought and Literature (SenD#5045)

The Senate Chair welcomed Professor George Dekker, Chair of the Committee on Graduate Studies, to present a report and recommendation concerning the renewal of the Program in Modern Thought and Literature (MTL). Zoback pointed out that the background material in Senate packets was thorough and the review had been somewhat complicated. The Chair also welcomed MTL Director David Palumbo-Liu, several faculty members on the Committee in Charge, a number of MTL graduate students, and H&S Associate Deans Keith Baker and Russell Berman.

Because the C-GS report was long and complicated, Dekker presented a condensed version, following the report's question and answer format. The first question: Does MTL duplicate or seriously overlap with what can be done in other Stanford departments, particularly the literature departments? C-GS believes, Dekker said, that the original MTL curricular formula of half literature and half non-literature courses is still mainly in place and continues to differ in major ways from that of any Stanford literature department. "The founding rationale of MTL ­ that a substantially different educational process would lead to a different and distinctive product ­ still seems to have merit," he stated.

The second question, the most important from the point of view of C-GS: What precisely is the educational mission of MTL and how well do the admissions procedures, curriculum, and examination requirements support that mission? Dekker advised that C-GS shares the opinion of the H&S Curriculum Committee that the Stanford Bulletin description and other recent explanations fail to state in plain language what MTL's curricular requirements and freedoms are meant to achieve. "We believe that there should be an intelligible alignment of the program's name, mission statement, general curricular requirements, methodological instruction, and admissions policies," he said. He noted that the program's leadership was working closely with the cognizant dean to achieve this alignment and transparency. "This may be principally a matter of presentation, but it may point to deeper problems," Dekker observed.

The third question: Does the program continue to attract excellent students? Dekker indicated that MTL had graduated its share of intellectual leaders who had pursued distinguished careers as interdisciplinary scholars and senior academic administrators. It also has a high percentage of minority scholars and seems likely to continue to attract them in above average numbers. "The Committee on Graduate Studies commends MTL for pursuing the university's mandate of affirmative action," he said, "and notes in passing that there is an excellent job market for superior minority scholars such as MTL has been able to recruit." Dekker confirmed, based on the evidence C-GS had seen, that the current MTL applicant pool was strong, and that recent admittees, whether entering with high or relatively low GRE scores, were making satisfactory progress. C-GS concurred with the Curriculum Committee that admission should be based on multiple criteria, and that a weakness in one area should be offset by exceptional strengths in other areas. "Ultimately, the test of the admissions process is the success of the students in making timely progress to degree, winning fellowships, publishing, and gaining tenure-line jobs. We would like to see further evidence of success in these areas in the next review," Dekker stated.

Question four: Does the recently established minor meet the perceived need for additional structure and guidance? Dekker said that the minor appears to be precisely what the 1995 review committee and previous cognizant dean had requested, and encouraged MTL to work closely with their cognizant dean to ensure that each minor forms a coherent program of study. The fifth and final question: Should MTL be considered for departmental status, as was suggested by the 1995 review committee? Dekker said that at least for the present time the answer is 'no.'

Describing the process leading to the C-GS recommendation, Dekker said that the H&S Curriculum Committee's report [which recommended a renewal for only two years] had had the effect of eliciting a flood of additional information. That information was in the form of letters from participating faculty members and former students, confidential data on admissions, progress, and placement of students in MTL and some other departments, and an excellent account of MTL's admissions and mentoring practices by the program's administrator Monica Moore. C-GS examined the new material, interviewed the program director and Associate Dean Berman on two occasions, and devoted a total of four committee hours over three meetings, "in an effort to make the right assessment and recommendations. We believe that we have got them right," Dekker stated. He reiterated the C-GS recommendation that MTL be renewed for four years, with an interim review by the Curriculum Committee and report to C-GS from the cognizant dean by the end of winter quarter 2001/2002. The interim report should address only the issues raised in question two, he said, with the expectation that the four-year review would be comprehensive as usual.

"Our recommendations obviously vary somewhat from those of the H&S deans and Curriculum Committee," Dekker stated. "The differences in substance, while not insignificant, are not major in terms of objectives or proposed measures for improvement. The chief difference is that C-GS recommends a time frame that is more generous, but still shorter than the usual five-year renewal. We include the requirement of an interim report after two years on the program's success in clarifying its intellectual goals and making any necessary curricular reform. We believe that a four-year extension will give the program a fairer period in which to demonstrate the continuing effectiveness of its admissions policies and the academic rigor of its recently established minors."

Zoback thanked Dekker for his report and asked the director and deans if they wished to comment. Professor Palumbo-Liu, MTL Director, said that the program accepts the C-GS recommendation, with some caveats, and looks forward to working with Associate Dean Baker on a mission statement. He said that he wished to provide information on how MTL fares in the areas of applicant pool, recruitment, student awards, job placement, and alumni satisfaction, "criteria against which a department or program might usually be measured." He also expressed disappointment that the Senate had not received a 14-page rebuttal to the Curriculum Committee's report, which he had filed with C-GS. Palumbo-Liu advised that MTL continues to be one of the most sought-after of Stanford's 16 Ph.D.-granting programs in the humanities, receiving over 120 applications each year, well ahead of Comparative Literature and the language departments. Competing with Yale, Berkeley, and Princeton, MTL successfully recruits 80 percent of those it admits, he said. MTL's small group of 20 students produced 10 prestigious fellowships and awards in the preceding two years alone, and MTL's placement record was on a par with, if not better than, those of the Departments of Comparative Literature and English, placing numerous students in tenure-track jobs at major universities. Alumni satisfaction runs extremely high, he noted, as witnessed by letters to C-GS from alumni serving as Dean of the Humanities at SUNY, Associate Director of the Annenberg School at USC, the Andrew Mellon Chair in the Humanities at Brown University, and others. "When we address the perceived vagueness of our mission statement, I would venture to say that whatever MTL is doing, we're doing it superbly, and with distinction in all of the usual markers of academic excellence. When the Curriculum Committee raises the essential question as to whether or not MTL provides students with the basic tools to succeed, I think by any objective standard, the answer has to be a resounding 'yes'," Palumbo-Liu stated.

"To put it plainly, MTL is nationally regarded as one of the two or three premier Ph.D. programs in interdisciplinary studies in the humanities in the United States. It is noted for its flexibility and its openness to innovation, features that are universally regarded as strengths in interdisciplinary work, as they allow MTL to conceive of and capture new phenomena and knowledge that fall outside traditional departmental boundaries," Palumbo-Liu said. "One of our concerns about the review process is that it is exactly these interdisciplinary strengths that are being put forward as weaknesses by the Curriculum Committee, " he remarked, expressing puzzlement that the review had been conducted in "an inexplicably negative light." Taking seriously the obligation to clarify MTL's function, Palumbo-Liu said that the program accepts the C-GS recommendations with two further comments. First, he asked that evaluation of MTL student success be undertaken within the context of comparable data from English and Comparative Literature. Second, he noted that MTL and Biophysics, the only Ph.D.-granting IDPs within H&S, "fall outside the school's algorithmic formula for determining graduate student aid" and asked that MTL be supported at current rates for the period of the renewal. He explained that fluctuations in aid might affect negatively MTL's ability to recruit and support the number and kinds of students whose work would reflect most positively on the program. "Outside of voicing these concerns, we are eager to begin working with our cognizant dean on our mission statement," Palumbo-Liu concluded.

Associate Dean Baker commented that he found the C-GS recommendations to be fair and thoughtful, and looked forward to working with MTL to respond. Associate Dean Berman agreed that the C-GS recommendations were fair, incorporating the key points identified by the Curriculum Committee and the H&S deans. He summarized these points briefly as: a lack of focus in intellectual mission, including a potential redundancy with opportunities for cultural studies in literature fields as well as cultural anthropology; an admission procedure that seemed to focus too heavily on the interdisciplinarity of the statement of purpose; and the need for a more structured curriculum, particularly in areas of methodology. "We regard these as quite urgent matters that require fixing promptly, hence our recommendation of a two-year renewal. Nonetheless, I recognize the fairness of the C-GS recommendation for the more generous term," Berman said.

Professor Efron (Statistics), admitting that he knew nothing about the MTL program, said that this was the worst review he had ever seen from the H&S Dean's Office, with very serious critiques, and that, if not persuaded otherwise, he intended later in the meeting to recommend an amendment to shorten the renewal term to three years. Dekker reinforced the belief of C-GS that, of several different renewal and interim report time periods considered, the "four-two" recommendation would permit the best assessment of the continuing success of the program's graduates. Professor Markus (Psychology), who served two years on C-GS, disagreed with Efron stating that many IDPs have a variety of similar problems. "IDPs are out on the forefront doing something new, so it's not surprising that the mission changes." She said that a changing mission and the possible overlap with departments seemed to be new criteria, "which we need to think about together as a university."

Professor Yarbro-Bejarano (Spanish and Portuguese) commented that her experiences with MTL students had been her most rewarding since joining the Stanford faculty in 1994. She praised them for the enriching perspectives they bring to her departmental classes and said that there would be a tremendous vacuum in her intellectual community if MTL did not exist. Professor Satz (Philosophy) said that she was surprised by the negative tone of the review and observed that, in her opinion, a poor mission statement is not a serious intellectual shortcoming, and GRE scores are not a very reliable predictor of student success.

Professor Noll (Economics), joking that he would take no back seat to Efron on ignorance of the program, said that the review of one particular IDP, as is often the case, raised several broad policy questions in his mind and revealed that "the policy emperor has no clothes." He first pointed out that the student placement data included in an appendix reflected a significant drop off in tenure-track appointments, and asked, "Is that a signal that something is wrong, or is there another reasonable explanation?" Noll next posed a policy question to the H&S deans, wondering if budgetary cutbacks were making it increasingly difficult for Ph.D.-granting interdisciplinary programs to support their doctoral students. Finally, he lamented that opportunities had not been seized to consider potential collaboration, possibly even merger, at the graduate or undergraduate levels of MTL with the new Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology and programs such as Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. "Why are we always discussing IDPs in a vacuum, without regard to what the optimal way to organize them in the future might be?" he asked.

Dean Beasley (School of Humanities and Sciences) responded that the Zare committee had specifically been asked to examine whether there are more imaginative or effective structures for organizing IDPs, and expressed the hope that clearly stated policies would emerge. He said that pending the results of the Zare committee review, IDPs were excluded from ongoing changes in allocation of graduate aid within H&S. Beasley stressed that the total amount of H&S support for graduate aid had not been reduced, rather those funds were being reallocated, and said that MTL was quite well supported relative to other departments and programs in the school. Palumbo-Liu replied to Noll's first question by indicating that MTL's placement record should have been considered in the context of comparable Stanford or national data, which would have led to a different interpretation. He also pointed out that neither the Comparative Literature nor English Departments are particularly welcoming to interdisciplinary work. The degree of overlap between MTL and various other departments, based on University documents such as the Bulletin, is quite small, he said.

Professor Rickford (Linguistics) countered Efron's earlier suggestion of a three-year renewal by urging that MTL be renewed for five years. Having a very limited time in which to implement change is demoralizing for students and faculty and distracts them from more productive endeavors, he said. "It would be interesting to see how most of our departments would hold up under similar scrutiny," Rickford remarked. He also questioned whether the students applying to MTL in high numbers would actually apply to traditional departments. And he pointed out that this is one of the few doctoral programs with demonstrated success in attracting and placing students of color. "Stanford and other universities in California have diminishing opportunities of this type. I would like to see them continued," he stated.

The Chair advised that time for the discussion and potential vote was running out, to which Efron responded, "I'll compromise with Professor Rickford and settle on four years."

Professor Sheehan (History) voiced concern about the shifting curricular content of the program, and asked if MTL was thinking about recasting the core curriculum to give it more of a foundational quality. Palumbo-Liu said that MTL and the Department of Comparative Literature had only a few core courses and encouraged students to put courses together "in unique and perhaps unexpected ways. That is really the benchmark of interdisciplinary work." Professor Gumbrecht (Comparative Literature), a Senate guest and member of the MTL Committee in Charge, commented that the humanities at Stanford and elsewhere are in a state of significant and productive transformation, with MTL and Comparative Literature at the center of that transformation. The relationship between those two entities has been mutually beneficial in helping each to define its own identity, he said. "In terms of intellectual energy, the present MTL is the best MTL I have seen in my 11 years at Stanford," he stated.

Professor Polhemus (English) called the question, expressing the opinion that a lot of thought had gone into the recommendation of a four-year renewal. His motion was seconded and approved. The following recommendation, moved and seconded by the Committee on Graduate Studies, was approved by voice vote with one abstention:

The Senate reauthorizes the Committee in Charge of the Program in Modern Thought and Literature to nominate candidates for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees for a period of four years, from September 1, 2001 through August 31, 2005. An interim report as specified by the Committee on Graduate Studies is required by the end of Winter Quarter 2001/2002.

Chair Zoback thanked Professors Dekker, Palumbo-Liu, and others for participating in the discussion. He reminded everyone to proceed next to Kresge Auditorium for the President's "State of the University" speech. Accepting a motion and a second, the Chair declared the meeting adjourned at 4:10 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Susan W. Schofield

Academic Secretary to the University