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Senate closes undergraduate microbiology program; discusses distribution requirements

STANFORD -- So much for the idea that universities never voluntarily close down academic programs.

The Faculty Senate on Thursday, Nov. 11, voted unanimously to stop offering a bachelor's degree in the Medical School's Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Only four undergraduates currently are enrolled in the program, and all will be able to complete their degrees this year, Professor Sarah Donaldson, radiation/oncology, told the senate on behalf of Medical School officials.

Most of the program's longtime faculty have retired recently, and new faculty want to focus on graduate and medical students, she said.

The medical dean's office proposed closing down the bachelor's degree program, and the Committee on Undergraduate Studies agreed, according to its chair, Professor David Brady, political science and business.

On another topic, Brady spurred a debate on distribution requirements when he asked the senate to grant routine approval to add Classics 169, Ancient Greek Ethics, to the list of courses that fulfill requirements for literature and fine arts, and for philosophical, social and religious thought.

Ron Rebholz, chairman of English, told Brady that "it seems an odd course to satisfy literature and fine arts."

Brady defended the request on the grounds that a subcommittee had delayed approval pending some changes in the course. Had the subcommittee rubber-stamped the request, it would have been part of last spring's full list of distribution requirement recommendations.

"It's a little late in the game to question a subcommittee that spent a lot of time on it," he said.

English Professor George Dekker, who also is associate dean for graduate policy, defended Rebholz, saying that if the "senate is actually going to be asked to approve these things, it should not be a ritual."

Brady snapped back, "As opposed to when the report got through with 312 [courses]." He then rattled off the list of how many courses meet various distribution requirements.

"Will each course that comes through get reviewed in the same way as this one?" Brady asked.

Physics Professor Alexander Fetter, who is also associate dean of humanities and sciences, questioned how many courses satisfy two or more area requirements.

Brady rattled off more numbers, pointing out that English has courses that cover four different distribution requirements.

"That raises serious questions about the meaning of distribution requirements," Fetter said.

Brady agreed, and said the Commission on Undergraduate Education, on which he serves, feels the same way.

Hans Andersen, chemistry, suggested that the senate approve the current request, but provide clearer future guidelines to the Committee on Undergraduate Studies and its subcommittee.

History Professor James Sheehan, who chairs the Commission on Undergraduate Education, said that "it has not escaped our attention that certain aspects of the distribution requirements are not ideal." The senate may want to see what recommendations the commission develops, he said.

That seemed to satisfy the senators, and they passed the request with three abstentions.

In other news, Brady said the Committee on Undergraduate Studies had reestablished a dormant subcommittee on residential education and advising and had revised criteria for reviewing interdisciplinary programs.

Myra Strober, associate dean of education, wondered if the new subcommittee on residential education was working with the Commission on Undergraduate Education and the search committee for a new residential education director. Who is coordinating all of this? she asked.

"I have no idea," Brady said to laughter. He then explained that the subcommittee was serving as a fact-finding group for the commission.

Sheehan said that Brady is the "human link" between the commission and the Committee on Undergraduate Studies and that John Bravman, engineering, is the link between the search committee and the commission.

Bravman told the senate that all candidates for the residential education position have been told the scope of the job may change dramatically in the future. He said he expected a new director to in place by February.



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