CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558

Faculty Senate seeks role in considering undergraduate recommendations

STANFORD -- What should be the role of the Faculty Senate in considering recommendations by the Commission on Undergraduate Education?

That issue came up repeatedly following presentation of the commission's report Thursday, Oct. 13, to the body charged with deciding academic issues such as curriculum and grading policy. (See Campus Report, Oct. 12, for story on the report's recommendations.)

Presented with a sheet of "implementation plan highlights" when they arrived at the meeting, several senators disagreed with the administration's plans to develop commission proposals without first seeking senate endorsement for the basic concepts. The highlights sheet showed that design committees would be appointed to consider proposed changes in Stanford's breadth requirements, including developing a new year-long science sequence for nonscience majors and revising the Cultures, Ideas and Values courses.

Mechanical engineering Professor Charles Kruger, who also is dean of research and graduate policy, was one of several to raise the subject during the 90-minute presentation and discussion when he asked Senate Chair Robert Simoni to explain the Steering Committee's strategy for senate consideration of the various recommendations.

English Professor Regenia Gagnier followed up, saying she assumed "we would come in and have a debate about it." Gagnier asked if the senate was supposed to "just react" to the implementation committees after they develop plans "or are we going to have some process where the senate's going to actually be able to debate these recommendations?"

Her question did not reflect opposition to the report - she said the commission's proposals "were very well articulated and very well thought out."

Simoni responded that the Oct. 13 meeting was the only one scheduled for general discussion, but another could be added if necessary. The plan is to consider items "at the implementation stage, when there's more specificity than is available at the moment."

"I don't think anyone is looking for a general approval or disapproval" of the commission report, he said.

Rice and her staff produced the implementation plan for the senate meeting at the urging of the Steering Committee, Simoni said, and then reviewed the document with the Steering Committee.

"Without it, the obvious question is 'what do we do now?' ” Simoni said.

Rice said she would “work with the Steering Committee to assess when it is the right time to bring various proposals to the senate for discussion." This will provide opportunities throughout the year to discuss the undergraduate teaching mission, she said.

Report presentation; Saldívar appointment

The procedural discussion followed presentations about the commission report from President Gerhard Casper, history Professor James Sheehan, who chaired the effort, and Provost Rice.

Casper told the senate that he appointed the commission last year to study undergraduate education "not to fix a problem, but to undertake quality control. I wanted to make sure that Stanford's undergraduate program is characterized to the fullest extent possible by rigor, responsibility and coherence."

He reviewed eight of the commission's most important recommendations, including the proposed new science breadth requirement and courses on historical evolution and comparative analysis of cultural traditions that would replace Cultures, Ideas and Values. "Each course, in my mind, should be seen as one-half of the comprehensive new requirement about different approaches to how we see the world," he said.

"I think the commission is wise in understanding that we must henceforth be engaged in continuous evaluation and renewal," Casper said. "I think the report is an excellent beginning."

Sheehan told his colleagues that the commission spent much of its time "trying to find out what was happening in the classroom and elsewhere, and to base our recommendations on as exhaustive a study of our educational procedures as we could make." What they produced is a "Stanford product," he said, not a document "that pretends to say something about undergraduate education in the world at large."

In cases where recommendations are not very detailed, the commission suggested procedures that could lead to solutions, Sheehan said.

The single most powerful theme of the report, he said, is "that we should improve, in as many ways as possible, our capacity to evaluate, assess and reflect upon" the issue of what is being learned and how well it is being learned.

The commission suggested formation of design committees to develop new required courses in science for nonmajors and a revamped version of Cultures, Ideas and Values. Membership on the committees would be made up of faculty who are willing to teach the courses.

Rice endorsed this suggestion, and said she would work with the Committee on Undergraduate Studies, the Committee on Committees and the deans to appoint the design committees. She said she also would appoint an advising review committee.

Regarding the commission's suggestion for appointment of a vice provost for undergraduate education, Rice announced that Ramon Saldívar, associate dean for undergraduate studies in humanities and sciences, would take on the additional title, but would also continue with his responsibilities in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Saldívar's dual role recognizes the centrality of the School of Humanities and Sciences in the undergraduate mission, Rice said, and "he will play for me a coordinating function with the School of Engineering and the School of Earth Sciences, both of which have teaching responsibilities in the undergraduate program."

Saldívar will oversee "certain activities and resource centers" relating to undergraduate education at Stanford, and will help "think through and manage the advising function" once the review committee completes its work. He also will work with the dean on better ways of measuring teaching effectiveness, Rice said.

Science core; interdisciplinary programs

In between questions and comments on procedural issues, several senators addressed issues raised in the report.

On the subject of the proposed science core, Pat Jones, last year's senate chair and now chair of biological sciences, said "most people would applaud that" as a benefit to students.

But because faculty members already are "stretched very thin in terms of meeting our teaching responsibilities, I think there's a lot of skepticism" about whether the university could get the resources for incremental faculty and teaching assistants, she said.

Rice responded that "we may have to think about reallocation of faculty time as well as incremental resources" to implement the proposed science core with regular faculty. There is no intention of creating a large parafaculty to teach the courses, she said.

Casper added that he thought he could raise incremental funds "if we put forward a convincing proposal."

Gagnier, who also is chair of modern thought and literature, asked Casper for his opinion about priorities for interdisciplinary programs, which he had not mentioned in his list of eight top priorities. (The commission said that interdisciplinary programs are among the most successful at Stanford, but that they are starved for resources.)

Casper replied that his own interests are mostly interdisciplinary, and that he found no fault with the commission's recommendations, which included proposals for more base funding and fractional billets for interdisciplinary programs. "Whether I can find money is another question," Casper said.

Casper then left the meeting because of commitments related to reunion weekend.

Teaching; breadth requirements

Speaking to the subject of how to improve teaching and spread teaching responsibilities more evenly, Roger Noll, economics, was dubious about the commission's suggested incentive - higher pay raises.

"Everybody knows that the way to be in the 95th percentile in salary at Stanford is to get an outside offer," he said, "and the way to get an outside offer is to maximize your research." Earning $3,000 or $5,000 from a teaching award or 1 percent or more on an annual salary increase is never "going to offset the fact that the best way to get a high salary is to be a nationally known research scholar."

Stanford has a structural problem that must be addressed: "A handful of departments in Humanities and Sciences do 50 percent of undergraduate teaching," he said.

The problem of uneven teaching load cannot be solved through incentives "because half the faculty are teaching in departments that don't have undergraduates," he said. "You've got to come to grips with that."

Sheehan agreed with Noll that "the grain of the institution is toward research." The commission tried to find ways to "interject into the culture some recognition that this other side of our mission is no less important," Sheehan said. "We thought that the incentive of raises was a rather better contribution to the culture than the teaching award."

Brad Efron, statistics, said he liked the tone of the report, and was pleased that improvements might be made in advising.

On the subject of requirements, he said Stanford has used them as a substitute for good advising. Courses should be designed that students want to take but are not forced to take by legislation, he said. "Requirements should be a last resort and not a first resort."

Sheehan said that the commission "recognized that requirements are, indeed, a curricular move of last resort," and also that "we ought not to require anything that we can't justify."

A structure in which students "jump over hurdles just because someone's put them there" undermines the "whole authenticity of the curriculum," he said.

Requirements should provide foundational skills, such as in writing and foreign language, that an 18-year-old student "might not voluntarily acquire," Sheehan said. It also seems worthwhile, he said, to "try to make the nonscientists among us better able to understand how scientists think." Stanford is well positioned to meet that cultural, political and social demand, he said.

The committee wanted to introduce as much flexibility and choice into the curriculum as possible, and "hold people responsible for the choices they make," Sheehan said.

John Bender, English, asked if the commission considered alternatives to "behemoth multi-tracked courses" to fulfill breadth requirements.

He suggested as an example that each department could be required to offer one or two introductory courses each quarter that students could use to fulfill breadth requirements. "That would be a radical redirection of faculty effort," Bender said.

Sheehan responded that many departments already offer introductory classes. Bender's alternative, Sheehan said, would not be a good substitute for the Cultures, Ideas and Values requirement, which has a different function than introductory courses in particular disciplines. He said the commission also felt that the proposed new science core would serve a different function than the many introductory science courses that already exist.

Curriculum design committees

Regarding membership on the science and Cultures, Ideas and Values curriculum design committees, Rice said she would appoint faculty members who were willing to teach the courses that are developed. She said she approved the commission's recommendation, “which is that you don't join a committee to design a course for somebody else to teach. That has been part of the problem with CIV,” she said.

Rice also said the committees would be responsible for gathering community opinion in the process of designing courses that “get at the essence of what the commission is trying to do.”

A group of science faculty held several meetings during the summer, she said, so appointment of the science core committee may come before the group that will tackle the cultures core.

Rice said that Geoffrey Cox, vice provost for institutional planning, will provide analytic support for the committees.

English Professor George Dekker, who also serves as associate dean for graduate policy, told Rice that it would require "a great deal of wisdom" to serve on committees that have such "tremendous responsibility."

"They will not only be responsible, I presume, for curricular design," Dekker said, "but they'll also have to think practically about whether what they would like to be able to deliver can be delivered with the faculty we actually have."

He asked Rice how she proposed to choose the design committees.

"Wise people are welcome to apply," she said to laughter. "Wise people won't apply," someone shot back to wider laughter.

Responding to a question from John Ferejohn, political science, Rice said that she expected the humanities and social sciences breadth requirement to be considered following development of the science core and culture core.

More is needed "than simply freedom of choice in the social sciences," Rice said, explaining her view that the issue would be "how to design a set of courses that might fulfill" the humanities and social sciences requirement.

Sheehan, however, said he did not think a design committee was necessary. In its report, the commission recommended that students have free choice to take three courses fitting a thematic connection in the humanities and/or social sciences outside of their major.

Charlotte Jacobs, senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs and a member of the commission, said that members felt "freedom of choice wasn't just freedom of choice to pick at will, but freedom of choice to be creative, and that you needed more faculty thinking to go into that."

She said the humanities and social sciences core could be justified on its own, separate from the science core and cultures core, and it should be considered soon because it is equally important.

As for what should come first - appointment of the design committees or senate endorsement of the new breadth requirement concepts - Jacobs said she would "hate to find after a year of work that the senate, in its wisdom, decided that it did not want to change the science requirement or the CIV requirement."

On the other hand, she said, "it's very hard for this body to make a decision about a change without having some idea of what that change might be."

She asked Rice how she planned to achieve the “delicate balance” between committees doing the designing and the senate approving the concepts.

"We will not send these people into quarantine," Rice said. She added that she hoped for "a rather open discussion about how things were evolving and what might be possible."

Jones of biological sciences suggested that some faculty may be interested in teaching a core course, but only if it were structured a certain way.

The ad hoc group that has been discussing a science core has "a particular orientation which has not really been discussed in the larger community," she said. This makes it difficult for a faculty member to know if he or she is interested in teaching in the program and whether to join the design committee.

Rice responded that she was only seeking an "expression of interest in teaching." After the course is designed, "I can't hold a gun to somebody's head and suggest that they teach it even though they don't want to.”

Preoccupied with process?

At this point, Simoni interjected that he thought "too much concern about process at this stage, in my judgment, is really premature."

None of the proposals would work, he said, unless there is a "highly interactive and cooperative" process. "One should presume we will go ahead that way if only to guarantee a good output.

"Were the administration foolish enough to go ahead without wide consultation, the results are probably predictable," he said.

Noll agreed that the process had to be participatory.The basic difficulty, he said, is that academic reform typically "bubbles up from the faculty, and the last people to react to it are the president and the provost." Decisions about resource issues are made at the top and trickle down, he said.

"Both of those concepts about how to run a university have severe problems when you talk about reforming the system in a way that has budgetary implications and in a way that has a significant implication for each one of our classrooms," he said.

Bender of English also spoke in support of colleagues who sought a general discussion of the commission's proposals. "It is a perfectly common procedure for bodies like this to make statements in principle and then to commission other bodies" to develop the details.

"I don't see why we couldn't have a session at which we discuss whether we want a science core and, if so, what it might be."

He said he was puzzled that the Academic Council's Committee on Undergraduate Studies is not listed as having a role in designing the proposed new breadth requirements.

Rice told Bender that resource issues could not be divorced from the proposals, and that she is worried because "the last process that took this on created a huge parafaculty. We can't let that happen.

"I'm a member of this faculty, too," Rice said, "and indeed one of its better undergraduate teachers. So I do have some substantive interest in this, not just my bureaucratic hat as provost.

"I think it's an excellent idea to have some discussion in the senate, but ultimately we're going to have to get down to the nuts and bolts about how we're going to do this and what resources we can bring to bear."

Bender responded that "it seems to me this is being treated as a foregone conclusion."

As set forth in the report, he said, both the science core and cultures core edge perilously close to "being courses about doing something" as opposed to courses that do something.

If the science core, for example, involves computational work and lab work, "I'm all for it," he said. "If it's Physics for Poets, I'm dead set against it.

"I think that's the kind of thing we need to articulate."Sheehan spoke up, telling Bender that "surely any sensible person who, in a fit of absent-mindedness, agreed to serve on a design committee would not invest enormous amounts of his or her time without constantly consulting the senate to be sure that they were not building a house no one wanted to live in."

The solution, he said, is not a committee that would go off and operate on its own, but "would come back at the beginning and discuss its principles, come back in the middle and discuss the sorts of things that had gone on, and come back at the end" for validation.

At any point, if there is widespread disagreement in the senate, those serving on the design committees "ought to seriously reconsider" how they are spending their time, Sheehan said.

Mary Pratt, Spanish and Portuguese, joined others concerned about the missing debate. She pointed out that to expedite its work last year, the commission's subcommittee on breadth requirements did not consult with faculty or accept faculty presentations. She also echoed Jones' concern that joining a design committee could be seen as acceptance of whatever it develops.

She asked for clarification of the role of the Committee on Undergraduate Studies. "In the past, core requirements have been the bailiwick of C-US, and C-US has brought proposals before the senate," she said. Would the design committees take their proposals to C-US first?

Simoni said proposals would come from C-US in conjunction with the design committees.

Science core

Returning to the subject of the science core, English Professor Rob Polhemus, who served on the commission's subcommittee on breadth requirements, said that the group felt strongly that a new science core would work only if it involves "the most distinguished scientists."

"We have to find out whether that's a possibility," he said.

A potential problem is the fact that those teaching required courses "always get lower evaluations" than those teaching nonrequired courses, he said.

On the subject of advising, he said he agreed that it should be better but research and teaching responsibilities always come before advising. "Committee work is the other thing that takes us away from teaching and research," he said. "It's a zero-sum game around here."

Phyllis Gardner, molecular pharmacology, echoed Polhemus on the science core, saying "if you want to install rigor, responsibility and coherence in your teaching process and in your learning process, you must do that from the very highest level of faculty."

She said she did not agree that only those willing to teach in a core should be on the design committee. "You should recruit your highest level of faculty to be on the science committee,” she said, and try to get them to espouse their disciplines for the benefit of scientific literacy in society. Rice responded that "these are extraordinarily important committees and we'll look to get the very best minds onto them and people who are committed perhaps to being a part of the undergraduate mission."

She said she hoped "we don't get lost in jurisdictional battles about what may be the most important thing that we have to do at Stanford."

"I'm very conscious of the senate's role in curricular reform and in degree-granting requirements," she said. It is important to put together a group to develop the proposals in more detail, she said.

"Whether that comes before or after a broader senate discussion, I'm agnostic. But at some point we have to try to move forward even if at the 11th hour we decide that perhaps we're not going to do this," Rice said.

"I know that will have been a lot of work, but after all, this is at the very core of what we do and so I hope we'll not lose sight of that as we talk about what process to undertake next."

Gagnier asked Simoni whether the Steering Committee could report at the next meeting about the senate's role.

He said "of course," then added, "if there is a sense that this general discussion was not adequate, we could have possibly a more structured but still general discussion relatively soon."

Simoni later said that at its Wednesday, Oct. 19, meeting the Steering Committee definitely would consider whether specific issues, such as the proposed new science requirement, ought to be brought to the senate soon for discussion.



This is an archived release.

This release is not available in any other form. Images mentioned in this release are not available online.
Stanford News Service has an extensive library of images, some of which may be available to you online. Direct your request by EMail to newslibrary@stanford.edu.