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Faculty Senate will hear status report on Stanford Introductory Studies

All freshmen entering Stanford in 1999 will have the opportunity to enroll in a small group course taught by a tenured or tenure-line faculty member, according to the status report on the Stanford Introductory Studies program that goes to the Faculty Senate Thursday.

Departments throughout the university are expected to launch approximately 100 new seminars for freshmen in the next three years, said Ramón Saldívar, vice provost of undergraduate education, who will deliver the report to the senate.

The Freshman Seminars program, part of a larger university-wide effort to enhance the first two years of undergraduate education, will begin next year with about 30 courses of 16 to 20 students each, Saldívar said during a recent interview. New courses will be added incrementally until the program is operating at full capacity in the 1999-2000 academic year, he said.

Stanford Introductory Studies

Although much attention has centered on the creation of the Freshman Seminars, Saldívar said the program is only one aspect of Stanford Introductory Studies, which was announced by President Gerhard Casper last spring.

At the time, Saldívar said, "the president asked faculty to think broadly about the range of courses, [current course] requirements and the possibilities for new courses that one could offer to create a stimulating set of initiatives that would set our students off in the right foot from the moment they arrive on Stanford to real achievement in their majors."

Programs that fall under the category of Stanford Introductory Studies range from the well-established to prospective, Saldívar said. They include the Sophomore Seminars and Dialogues, the Science, Mathematics and Engineering Core, Sophomore College, the redesigned Area One requirement, the Writing and Critical thinking requirement and an improved advising structure for undergraduates.

"A great number of the earliest initiatives that we are now bringing together under SIS began by focusing on sophomore year," he said. "Because of the wonderful successes that we have had there, we now can step back and make sure that the first year is at the level we would want it to be."

Concerns about additional requirements

Some faculty members who fear the Freshman Seminars program will become mandatory say freshmen already are saddled with too many requirements under the current curriculum.

But Saldívar, who heads the Undergraduate Advisory Council that is overseeing the implementation of the new program, said it is too soon to tell whether a recommendation for mandatory seminars will be made at some point in the future.

"That issue is one that we will consider in the course of the three years as we ramp up to full capacity," Saldívar said. "Certainly, we can't require them until we have full capacity available, so, in some ways, that question puts the cart before the horse."

Judging from the success of Sophomore Seminars and Dialogues, a program that gives second-year students the opportunity to explore potential majors in small classes of up to 10 students each, Saldívar predicts that student demand for Freshman Seminars will be high regardless of whether they are structured as an elective or as a requirement.

The sophomore program began four years ago with about 20 offerings and has expanded to nearly 90 course offerings today, said Saldívar, who expects it will continue growing until every sophomore can choose to participate in one of the small group courses.

He predicted a similar success for the freshman program.

"I anticipate that if we make Freshman Seminars exciting, innovating and challenging, nearly all of our students will want to take them," he said. "It is my guess, from the many conversations I have with students all the time, that they come to Stanford expecting this kind of intellectual experience."


Unlike the Sophomore Seminars and Dialogues, where senior faculty members volunteer to teach the small group course as an "add-on," Freshman Seminars will be part of a faculty member's regular teaching load. "Rather than it being an individual choice to participate or not, the department will make a commitment to provide a certain number of seminars and will be responsible for supplying those seminars plus faculty to teach them," Saldívar explained.

President Gerhard Casper last spring announced the creation of 20 new billets to help support the Freshman Seminars program. The faculty members hired in these new billets will not be tied to teaching Freshman Seminars directly. Rather, a department will distribute the courses among its faculty as a whole.

In order to determine where the additional billets and resources should be allocated, all departments have been asked to demonstrate their "full and efficient use" of existing faculty billets in support of first- and second-year undergraduate programs. They also have been asked to show how current teaching loads can be redistributed and, in some cases, increased, to help meet the demand for introductory programs.

These departmental plans, together with proposals for offering Freshman Seminars and requests for additional faculty billets, are currently being accepted and reviewed by the deans of each school. The information will then be forwarded to the Undergraduate Advisory Council, which will make recommendations to the provost, who has the final say on where additional billets and resources will be allocated.

The provost may decide to allocate to a department, or cluster of departments, either a new billet or graduate fellowship aid in support of the department's continuing agreement to provide a certain number of seminars per year, Saldívar said.

Since the additional billet provides for most departments an added teaching capacity of three to four courses, however, the agreement requires that a department dedicate courses to the Freshman Seminars beyond the added capacity of the new billet alone.

"We expect that most departments [that submit proposals] will offer anywhere between five to eight Freshman Seminars and perhaps even more than that," Saldívar said.

More than one billet, he added, may be allocated to a department to help staff these new courses if the department makes a good case that the additional billet is necessary.


By Marisa Cigarroa

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