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Cultures, Ideas, Values faculty oppose major program changes

STANFORD -- Adoption of a proposal to revamp the Cultures, Ideas and Values program could lead many senior faculty to abandon it instead, according to history Professor Paul Seaver, who heads the program. If that happens, it is not clear there would be an adequate pool of faculty willing to teach in the year-long course required of freshmen and transfer students, Seaver warned.

Last week, Seaver and 40 faculty members who teach in Cultures, Ideas and Values challenged a suggestion in the October report of the Commission on Undergraduate Education that would revise CIV to clarify its purpose and make its curriculum more coherent.

It quoted students as saying that CIV's nine tracks differ too widely in purpose, work load and grading policy. Neither the supervisory efforts of its advisory committee nor the common list of six authors shared by all tracks "has been able to provide the kind of cohesion and consistency promised by the program's founding legislation," the commission said. Nevertheless, the requirement provides a significant and, for some students, unique learning experience, according to the report.

The commission suggested that the university begin immediately the process of transforming and possibly renaming CIV, with the new courses to be in place by fall of 1998. This would be done by a committee of faculty members who are prepared to teach in the new program.

Some existing tracks would be revised to fit the new model, and new tracks would be added. Each track would examine a common set of themes and problems in any of several different cultures, such as European, Asian or Islamic, and would become "the proper forum for a critical and historically informed discussion of issues of ethnicity, cultural identity, and political and social values," according to CUE.

In a letter published in the Jan. 11 Campus Report, most of the CIV faculty strongly criticized the report for proposing a radical change in the mission of CIV.

"It is disingenuous to suggest that such a change would merely fulfill, better than the present CIV program does, the mandate for the CIV program stated in the 1988 senate legislation," the CIV faculty members wrote.

"Neither is it practical to consider such a change without asking who, besides historians, will be able and willing to design and teach such a course," the faculty added. The letter was based on comments made during two meetings of the CIV faculty, Seaver said.

In an interview, commission chair James Sheehan, professor of history, said that contrary to the charges in the faculty letter, the commission did not try to dictate how CIV should be taught or reformed. The commission never believed it was designing a new course, Sheehan said.

In a conciliatory tone, Sheehan said that the commission instead "tried to begin a dialogue and suggest a way in which that dialogue could go on" that would engage the CIV instructors.

"Inasmuch as we've encouraged 40 people in the course to get together and talk about what they're doing, we've already begun to fulfill our objectives," he said.

During its study of the CIV requirement, commission members found that students were “puzzled by the diversity among the tracks and had trouble understanding how courses that different could be fulfilling the same requirement,” Sheehan said. “There also was a widespread sense that some tracks were not fulfilling what students took to be the stated purpose of the course.”

Seaver and his colleagues consider that very diversity to be one the program's strengths.

As a historian, Seaver said he personally agrees with the commission's definition of culture. Various approaches can be taken, however, he said. “Pretending this isn't the case and introducing freshmen to only one way of studying cultures is not an accurate representation of where academe is these days,” he said.

The commission noted that CIV has been asked to do too many things, Seaver said. On the other hand, it is asking “that we do even more.”

Sheehan said he agreed that "if we conceive of CIV in its present condition and don't try to rethink it, they are right, it can't bear any more burdens of purpose. That's why we want them to step back and think of different ways of doing it."

Seaver said that some, himself included, would not have trouble implementing the commission's recommendations. But others are not interested, he said. “It represents such a different take on culture that they would simply stop teaching” in the program and go back to teaching in their specialties.

The “straitjacket” imposed could lead to loss of some tracks, which would result in fewer, larger classes, Seaver said. Students learn better, and have a greater stake, in smaller lecture courses - about 100 rather than 300 students - he said. This is especially true of freshmen, who are not as experienced as upperclass students, he said.

Freshmen in large classes feel “anonymous and invisible,” Seaver said. “If we lose our smaller classes, there's not much justification for going to Stanford rather than Berkeley.”

The program relies on departments to volunteer their senior faculty for CIV teaching assignments. Approximately 45 to 50 faculty, including lecturers, teach in the program, although the number fluctuates from quarter to quarter, Seaver said.

Seaver compared the origins of CIV to current proposals for a new science course for non-majors. In 1988, groups of faculty said they would be willing to teach in a changed Western Culture program, much like some science faculty are now expressing a willingness to teach in a new science curriculum. Professors followed through on their commitments in 1988, but Seaver said he is not aware of any faculty who are eager to develop new courses for a changed CIV.

The commission's proposal also drew criticism from English Professor Ron Rebholz, a CIV instructor and one of the letter's signers.

He said the commission's attempt to incorporate world and American cultures into CIV "distorts the mandate of CIV" and tries to cram too much into a one-year course.

Eliminating the two requirements also is an effort to eliminate in-depth study of diverse cultures, Rebholz said. "I suspect they don't really approve of those requirements, especially American cultures, which is an ethnic studies requirement for all practical purposes."

Rebholz, who is on sabbatical but has taught in Great Works and in Literature and the Arts, said he would no longer teach in the program "if this change is imposed."

The Faculty Senate, which is tentatively scheduled to discuss the cultures issue on Feb. 9, will provide guidance for a cultures curriculum design committee that Provost Condoleezza Rice is expected to appoint soon, Sheehan said.

The design committee "clearly has to consult and cooperate with the current CIV faculty," he added.



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