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Changes in undergraduate distribution requirements to be proposed

STANFORD -- Non-science majors would take a three-quarter science requirement especially designed for them under a proposal agreed upon by the Commission on Undergraduate Education on Monday, May 23.

Separate social science and humanities distribution requirements would be combined under another commission proposal that would permit individual students to build, with approval from their advisers, their own "thematic core" from the many humanities and social science course offerings.

A third proposal to combine and reduce the five-course culture studies requirements to three courses was tabled until the next commission meeting on Saturday, June 4, said history Professor James Sheehan, who chairs the commission.

All proposed changes in graduation requirements ultimately require the approval of the Faculty Senate. The commission, appointed last fall by President Gerhard Casper, plans to finish its work this quarter and present written recommendations on distribution requirements and other matters to the senate on Oct. 1, Sheehan said.

The science proposal has "received the broadest consensus and highest degree of enthusiasm from the commission," Sheehan said, "but it is also the proposal with the highest price tag. If the Faculty Senate agrees to make this change, it will require the university committing resources to develop these science courses."

The change would not affect students majoring in natural sciences, engineering or pre-medicine because they fulfill their science distribution requirements within their majors. The proposal envisions faculty scientists teaming up to produce course sequences, similar to the way faculty teamed up to offer coherent sequences of courses in the Cultures, Ideas and Values program, Sheehan said. The reason for the change is that most of the existing courses available to non-science majors are "either accessible and non-scientific" or "scientific and non-accessible," he said.

Faculty have attempted to design rigorous science courses for non- scientists in the past, Sheehan said, but those ad hoc efforts were not maintained systematically, which requires a university-wide commitment.

The commission also reached a consensus on combining the three- quarter social science and humanities core requirements. "We would essentially erase those two categories and leave it up to students to take thematically linked courses approved by their advisers." The commission envisions a student taking three courses linked by a theme, such as gender studies, French culture or 20th-century politics.

Under the existing system, Sheehan said, "there's little evidence from [the qualifying course] lists that there's real coherence. If these categories are, as I believe, essentially arbitrary, we might as well give students a chance to make some choices as well as build coherence."

The distribution requirements for culture studies will require more discussion before a consensus can be reached, Sheehan said. Currently students are required to take the three-quarter Cultures, Ideas and Values sequence as freshmen and additional courses in American cultures and world cultures. They also must take a course that includes gender studies, although it is not a separate course requirement.

"We believe that the number of required courses should be diminished overall," Sheehan said, "and we also believe that if you look at the descriptions of [the culture course requirements], there is considerable overlap.

"So the commission is virtually unanimous - not entirely but almost unanimous in believing that the culture core should be shrunk from five to three courses. We have not, however, come to closure on how to do that."



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