Stanford to conduct study of undergraduate education

John Bravman, vice provost for undergraduate education, has announced plans to form a commission that will spend the next two years studying the academic goals and requirements for undergraduate students.

John Bravman, vice provost for undergraduate education, announced Thursday that Stanford plans to convene a two-year commission to study the university's academic goals and requirements for undergraduate students.

Speaking at yesterday's Faculty Senate meeting, Bravman said the commission is expected to grapple with such questions as:

  • What will comprise a liberal education in 2020?
  • Do we have too few, too many or about the right number of university undergraduate requirements?
  • Should all Stanford students be subject to the same general requirements, independent of their majors?

He said students, Stanford and the world have changed significantly since 1994, when the university's Commission on Undergraduate Education released its report.

"Fifteen years ago, our freshmen were three years old," he said. "Those of us who teach undergraduates – and especially those of us who live with undergraduates in the dorms – can tell you that students have really changed. Their view of the world is very, very different. Their facility with technology is very, very different."

Bravman, who graduated from Stanford 30 years ago, said that when he was in school there was nothing scheduled at night except movies and parties.

"Now Intro Chemistry has a midterm quiz every other Wednesday night, and in the intervening every other Wednesday night there's an 'optional' review session," he said. "Well, tell a pre-med student that a chemistry class review session is optional."

Bravman said students keep intense schedules that last late into the night – four to five hours later than earlier generations.

"I don't see how one can look at these often Titanic changes and say that it's not time to take some kind of comprehensive look again at what we're doing for students, what our goals are, what students should expect of Stanford and what they will get out of Stanford when they leave," he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Bravman said he expects to get the commission's charge, or instructions, from Provost John Etchemendy within the next few weeks.

He said the commission has tentatively been named the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford.

Bravman said the commission, once it is appointed, is expected to launch task forces to study specific topics starting next spring and continuing through the 2010-2011 academic year.