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Commission preview: new introductory courses; no formal 3-year degree

STANFORD -- The Commission on Undergraduate Education next fall will recommend a new three-quarter introductory science requirement, will propose major changes in the Cultures, Ideas and Values program, and will suggest creation of a new post of vice provost for undergraduate education.

It will not, however, propose a three-year degree program, commission chair James Sheehan, professor of history, told the Faculty Senate on Thursday, June 9.

Sheehan's preview of the commission's fall recommendations produced few surprises - he has regularly discussed issues with the campus media during the nine months that he and 18 other faculty, students, staff and alumni have been engaged in a thorough study of undergraduate education at the request of President Gerhard Casper.

Sheehan told 34 members of the senate and 29 members of the Board of Trustees attending as guests that the report will propose "no single dramatic revolutionary change." Rather, it will contain a large number of recommendations designed to "reform, reinvigorate and improve a number of things we do."

He said that "to survive and flourish" Stanford must renew and reaffirm its dual commitment to excellence in both teaching and research.

Every faculty member should contribute to the university's teaching mission, he said. "There is, we think, no room for free riders in either teaching or research," Sheehan said.

The pursuit of excellence in teaching requires "that we develop more sensitive and more informative ways of assessing teaching in all of its forms," and the commission plans to make recommendations in this area, he said.

The commission recently completed formal deliberations. Its report will be written this summer and released through the president on Oct. 1, Sheehan said.

Its proposals will include:

"We are not doing a good job of introducing our students who are not science majors to the powerful, significant, ever-more- important world of scientific inquiry," Sheehan said.

The proposed requirement probably would involve different tracks that would include lab work, training in quantitative methods and an introduction to the problems and themes of at least one scientific discipline, Sheehan said.

To do this would require significant institutional resources, including faculty time and energy. The university's ability to institute such a series would depend on the willingness of faculty members to develop and teach such courses, he said.

The commission is working on a statement of purpose for the new culture core, and hopes a group of faculty would use that to create a new three-quarter course for all students, he said.

The university, with the exception of the Law School, would remain on the quarter system. Although some would like to change to semesters, the idea is too "political," Sheehan said.

"This recommendation will not evoke unanimous enthusiasm," Sheehan said, in part because the record of similar positions in the past has not always been encouraging.

Sheehan also talked about evaluation of teaching in the context a "lack of symmetry between teaching and research," which he said shows up in the ways each is assessed. Elaborate means are available to evaluate research but not teaching.

Those who fail to perform research "usually pay a substantial price," but those "unwilling or unable to teach rarely suffer similar consequences."

"This should change: The university's system of rewards and incentives must be based on a dual commitment," he said.

After the commission completes its report, much of the next phase of work, Sheehan said, will take place in the senate, which is the faculty body that decides issues relating to academic administration of the university, including teaching and research.

CIV requirement

The commission's ideas about CIV figured prominently in the discussion that followed Sheehan's presentation, with several senators seeking more clarification.

Sheehan said that in its general quest to reduce the number of graduation requirements, the commission thought the five courses relating to cultures - a three-quarter CIV series, plus courses in American cultures and in world cultures - could be reduced to three.

"There was a considerable overlap between the justification and purposes of these five courses, which had never really been considered together," Sheehan said. "They had come up two years apart and had never been looked at as a whole."

The commission is interested in a three-quarter course that would encompass "consideration of culture in various forms and with its various ingredients," he said. It would still have separate tracks.

Ron Rebholz, chair of English, told Sheehan that he was worried about compression of the American and world cultures requirements. On top of that, "almost everyone says CIV tries to do too much," Rebholz said.

Currently, the CIV tracks take seriously the imperative to include more information on non-Western cultures, he said. They might, for example, spend three weeks on Islam to cover a non- Western culture, and two weeks on author Toni Morrison might be incorporated as a way of including more about the contributions of women and minorities.

"You are going to lose the whole point of the world cultures and American cultures" requirements if this is compressed in a new course, Rebholz said.

Sheehan agreed that "the course is overburdened." The presence of non-Western material in CIV "looks like tokenism" and has been criticized repeatedly, he said. "It is a danger that we are simply going to make that worse, but I think the only chance we have to make it better is to stop, step back from this program and start over."

The problem with CIV is that it "never really lost the residue of its beginning in Western culture." Its roots are in teaching history, but now it is being asked to do other things, Sheehan said.

The CIV situation reminds him of the complexity of Ptolemaic astronomy, Sheehan said. What's needed is a "Copernican solution" to get to the central issue.

Intellectual cohesion must be present in whatever replaces CIV, he said, otherwise "we're left where we started."

Myra Strober, education, asked whether there could be flexibility in the timing of students' taking the culture core. Students use the readings to reflect on their own lives, she said. "It is not clear all students do that best in their freshman year."

Sheehan responded that "many of us" who have taught CIV tracks agree with Strober, especially in spring quarter, when attendance drops off.

However, CIV does have a "powerful socializing effect," providing intensive, small-group activity and practice in writing and critical thinking that is useful in the freshman year, Sheehan said. In the end, "I think it is desirable to have it in the first year."

Rebholz asked whether issues such as the culture requirement would go to the Committee on Undergraduate Studies or directly to the senate.

Sheehan said he had not yet discussed that with committee chair David Brady, but hoped the commission's recommendations would find their way to the senate "with some dispatch" and not be reformulated before the senate "gets a chance to look at them."

"We realize that what we propose will not be accepted by acclamation," he said.

Science requirement

The commission's idea for a new introductory science requirement roused concern by Alexander Fetter, physics, who worried that mathematics and technology would be left out of courses developed. They are not part of the physical sciences, he said.

Fetter reminded Sheehan that for five years he co-taught with Jim Adams, mechanical engineering, and Bob Osserman, mathematics, an introductory sequence in Values, Technology, Science and Society that combined elements from the three scientifically related distribution requirements. This was done with almost no university resources, he said, and eventually died for lack of university commitment to keep it going.

Sheehan responded that he hoped that the current requirements could be combined into a single three-quarter course.

The idea is somewhat parallel to CIV, he said. However, in debating the concept, the senate should focus on principles rather than details, which was "a mistake" made in formulating the original CIV concept. "The senate should leave it in the hands of faculty" who would teach the course to decide how to do it, he said.

Other issues

Sheehan agreed with the concern raised by Stephen Krasner, political science, that credit allocation for courses varies by department. "There is enormous variety," Sheehan said. "It is not clear when they give credits for courses that they are using the same calibration." The commission would like to see an ongoing process of assessment and review in this area, he said.

Responding to questions from David Kennedy, history, about residential education and the language requirement, Sheehan said the commission rejected the idea of a mandatory language proficiency test as unfair because that is not done for other subjects, such as history. The language requirement would be fulfilled either by passing the third quarter of a Stanford language course or by a proficiency test, he said.

Regarding residential education, Sheehan said the commission's proposals would not be revolutionary. Instead, they will suggest more focus on defining the purposes of residential education and talking about problems that have arisen about its mission. The educational component of residential education should report to the proposed vice provost for undergraduate education, he said.

On the subject of teacher evaluation, Sheehan told student representative-at-large Derek Miyahara that evaluation is now centered around courses. In most of the university, there is no peer evaluation and little self-evaluation. Furthermore, the course evaluation form given to most students, except in engineering, is an "embarrassment," Sheehan said.

Provost Condoleezza Rice pointed out that Lee Shulman, education, heads a committee dealing with the subject of teaching evaluation. It will soon report its findings.

The discussion ended with sustained applause for Sheehan and the commission.



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