Global changes spur comprehensive review of undergraduate education at Stanford

Stanford will review its curriculum, to reaffirm or revise its goals for undergraduate education, and to ensure that its requirements reflect its stated goals.

Stanford has appointed an 18-member task force, composed of faculty, students and staff, to undertake a wide-ranging review of undergraduate education on the Farm, Provost John Etchemendy announced at yesterday's Faculty Senate meeting.

A two-page document distributed at the Thursday meeting, titled "The Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford University," outlined the need for the review:

"The growing social, political, economic and ecological interconnectedness of the world certainly challenges us to look more broadly at what it means to be an educated citizen. How do these changes affect what today's student needs from an undergraduate education? What do we want our students to gain from their time on the Farm? How do we best prepare them for local, national and global citizenship?"

The first objective of the task force will be to address those questions and articulate an updated set of goals for a Stanford undergraduate education.

The second objective will be to suggest how these goals might best be achieved and reflected in Stanford's undergraduate curriculum.

"The task force should examine Stanford's requirements as part of the overall structure and fabric of undergraduate education, and seek to understand how these requirements work in relation to the academic preparation of today's entering students, on the one hand, and the expectations of our disciplinary majors, on the other," said the statement, which was signed by Etchemendy and John Bravman, vice provost for undergraduate education.

Harry Elam Jr., the co-chair of the task force, told the senate that the group's   approach would be systematic, collaborative and inclusive.

"It will be collaborative in the sense that we will reach out to students in a variety of forums, including town meetings," said Elam, the Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities in the Department of Drama. "We will also reach out to faculty, to leaders, and most significantly here, to the Faculty Senate. We plan to come to the Faculty Senate with interim reports for your feedback and input."

Elam said the task force also will explore undergraduate requirements at peer institutions to look for innovative and exciting ideas.

"Most importantly and significantly, we want to find something that's the right fit for Stanford," he said, adding that the university has been a leader in undergraduate education and hopes to maintain that role.

Etchemendy said he imagined that it could take the task force at least a year and a half to present its final proposal, and asked the group to give the senate an interim report in late spring.

The co-chair of the task force is James Campbell, the Edgar E. Robinson Professor in U.S. History. The other members of the task force are:

  • R. Lanier Anderson, associate professor of philosophy
  • Aysha Bagchi, undergraduate, history and philosophy, '11
  • Jonathan Berger, the Billie Bennett Achilles Professor in Performance, music
  • Sarah Billington, Clare Booth Luce Associate Professor, civil and environmental engineering
  • Timothy Bresnahan, Landau Professor in Technology and the Economy, economics
  • Chris Edwards, associate professor of mechanical engineering
  • Stephanie Kalfayan, vice provost for academic affairs, Provost's Office
  • Susan McConnell, the Susan B. Ford Professor, biology
  • Kathryn Moler, associate professor of applied physics and of physics
  • Rob Reich, associate professor of political science
  • Jennifer Summit, professor of English
  • Ravi Vakil, professor of mathematics
  • Nayoung Woo, undergraduate, chemistry, '12
  • Scott Calvert, director of finance and administration, Undergraduate Education (staff)
  • Sharon Palmer, associate vice provost, Undergraduate Education (staff)
  • LaCona Woltmon, '04, administrative associate, Undergraduate Education (staff)

The last comprehensive study of undergraduate education at Stanford took place in 1994 and was carried out by the Commission on Undergraduate Education. Its findings led to many changes in the curriculum and to expanded academic opportunities for undergraduates, including freshman seminars, substantially increased support for undergraduate research, and revised foreign language, writing and introductory humanities requirements.