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Commission on Undergraduate Education holds first meeting

STANFORD -- Stanford's Commission on Undergraduate Education has begun its year-long mission with a "very broad and wide-ranging" opening retreat, said commission chair history Professor James Sheehan.

The 19-member commission (see membership list, page xx) met for six hours Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Stanford-owned Meyer-Buck Estate in Menlo Park.

The retreat, Sheehan said, had two main purposes: to allow commission members to get to know one another, and to begin to shape an agenda for the fall quarter and for the year. The commission plans to meet each Friday for two hours.

On the agenda, Sheehan said, "I think we made a good beginning on the difficult task of boiling this down to a set of issues we can come to terms with."

The commission hopes by the end of fall quarter to define the agenda well enough to set up sub-groups, each of which will study a specific issue during winter quarter. Membership in the sub-groups will be drawn from across the campus, and will not be confined to commission members.

After the sub-groups report back, Sheehan said, the commission will work on its report during spring quarter. He said he hopes that a draft report (which would not be a public draft) will be completed by June. The commission's final report of findings and recommendations to President Gerhard Casper is due Oct. 1, 1994.

"We are eager to hear from as many people as possible in as many ways as possible," Sheehan said. "We intend this to be a campus-wide discussion."

Suggestions or comments for the commission may be sent to P.O. Box 9780, Stanford, CA 94309, or by electronic mail to hf.jkr at Forsythe.

Casper's charge to the commission is to "clarify the goals of a Stanford undergraduate education and to recommend ways to insure that our programs are appropriate and effective in support of those goals."

The commission is to "review the undergraduate curriculum and related programs with regard to the changing needs and expectations of our students and their families, the emerging opportunities and challenges of the 21st century, and the unique strengths and resources of Stanford University."

In comments to the Board of Trustees, which on Oct. 10 held a retreat of its own to exchange views on undergraduate education, Casper elaborated on his charge.

Universities such as Stanford "offer an incredible array of academic, athletic and experiential activities," Casper said. "The choices are so great that, in essence, curriculum is almost completely elective. It offers students an opportunity to experience a great range, but also, occasionally, just a smattering of this and a smattering of that."

Although American higher education is unsurpassed in the world and some might advocate a business-as-usual approach, Casper said, signs of distress with the status quo are apparent. For example, he said, college is increasingly expensive, especially for middle and upper-middle class parents who are beyond the parameters for student aid.

Furthermore, Casper said, "new technologies question the modes of teaching, especially the large class. What is the future of interactive technologies and how do we take them into account? Technology aside, do we have enough small classes to challenge students - both those who seek to be challenged and those who prefer to do just enough to get by?"

Casper announced the creation of the Commission on Undergraduate Education in his "state of the university" address April 29.

"I do not presume to propose a new undergraduate curriculum," Casper said in the address, "but I do propose that we embark on a new and comprehensive study of undergraduate education." He said the examination would be the most thorough since the 1968 Study of Education at Stanford.

During commencement ceremonies June 13, Casper announced his choice of Sheehan to lead the commission. He made the announcement while presenting Sheehan with the Gores award for outstanding teaching.

Sheehan announced the remaining commission members, except for the two student members who were named by the Associated Students, at a Faculty Senate meeting Sept. 30. Education Professor Myra Strober, who chaired the Committee on Committees last year, told the senate that of the 14 faculty members on the commission, seven were suggested by her committee.

The commission is composed of 14 faculty members, two students, two alumni and one staff member.



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