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Commission on Undergraduate Education looks at majors

STANFORD -- The Commission on Undergraduate Education focused on the strengths and weaknesses of undergraduate majors at its Friday, Nov. 12, meeting, and decided that a subcommittee should be established to examine the issue of majors in depth, said history Professor James Sheehan, commission chair. Subcommittees will meet during winter quarter to look at a number of specific topics. These committees will be made up of both commission members and other faculty, students and staff. In preparation for the Nov. 12 meeting, commission members collected information on majors from different departments and interdepartmental programs. It was clear, Sheehan said, that the commission "could not set out to evaluate each individual major," but rather should try to reach a general agreement on what a major should involve. Commission members agreed, Sheehan said, that a strong major offers a "core experience" - something required of all majors, such as a course or set of courses. The commission also agreed, Sheehan said, that strong majors are rigorous, with a clearly defined set of requirements, and that they offer a "culminating experience," such as a required final seminar or paper. Weak majors, Sheehan said, were seen as "those that didn't seem to have much coherence or to demand much beyond a combination of courses." Commission members thought that the subcommittee on majors should try to define the number of units a major should require, Sheehan said. "That's a more difficult issue than one might think," he said, since 3 or 4 units in one major might require much more work than 3 or 4 units in another major. At its next meeting, Sheehan said, the commission will look at advising, residential education and the Center for Teaching and Learning. -mas-


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