Faculty Senate debates number of requirements

May 18, 2012, 2:08 a.m.

The Faculty Senate increased the proposed number of breadth requirements for undergraduates at its Thursday meeting, reverting back to a recommendation made by the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES) report in January.

Faculty representatives also rejected an amendment that would redefine the scope of the Breadth Requirements Governance Board, the body in charge of determining whether or not a course meets a specified breadth requirement.

“This experience has made me so proud of this institution,” said Acting President and Provost John Etchemendy Ph.D. ‘82. “A heated disagreement is good because it shows that we care that much about undergraduate education.” Faculty Senate debates number of requirements

Etchemendy opened the meeting by announcing a committee to search for a new athletic director, prompted by current Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby’s planned departure at the end of the academic year.

“We hope to have an athletic director in place by September,” Etchemendy said. “Patrick Dunkley will be the acting athletic director beginning June 16 after Bob steps down.”

The meeting then moved on to a continued discussion of University undergraduate breadth requirements. Following the publication of the SUES report, the Faculty Senate received recommendations from the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policies (C-USP) in response to the document. C-USP has recommended that undergraduates take eight breadth requirement courses, despite the fact that that the SUES report suggested students take 11.

The Senate discussed an amendment, which would return to the original SUES recommendation for 11 breadth courses. The amendment would require students to take courses that fit into the seven “Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing” categories first created by the SUES report. Students would be required to take two courses in “Aesthetic and Interpretive Inquiry,” two in “Social Inquiry,” two in “Scientific Analysis,” two in “Formal and Quantitative Reasoning” (with one in each branch), one course in “Engaging Difference,” one in “Moral and Ethical Reasoning” and one in “Creative Expression.”

C-USP, however, has recommended double course requirements in only one of those categories.

“Requiring one course in each category would be an invitation to superficiality,” said Susan McConnell, SUES co-chair, as to why her committee originally suggested requiring two courses in some categories, but not all. “For instance, it can be difficult for students to engage with science in just one course because there’s a language barrier. By requiring two courses, we create opportunities for students to gain familiarity with the subject and then get in depth.”

“The proposal does not increase the general education blueprint or narrow the space for exploration,” McConnell added.

Debra Satz, senior associate dean for the Humanities and Arts, expressed approval toward the amendment, but said she feels that students should have more flexibility to take different courses.

“I support a bigger footstep because I believe that students should have a wider breadth,” she said.

Satz added a friendly amendment to the proposal to split the “Formal and Quantitative Reasoning” requirement into two different categories, stating that this division would add transparency.

Faculty senators who spoke appeared split on which proposal to move forward. Many cited the need for students to have academic freedom as a reason to keep C-USP’s recommendation of fewer requirements. Others supported the amendment because it would result in increased exposure to breadth and department, which Biology Professor Patricia Jones said is similar to the requirements at Stanford’s peer institutions.

The Senate ended up voting in favor of the amendment, and the higher number of breadth requirements.

The senators then moved on to a discussion of the “governance” section of the amendment. Some faculty members said they felt that the Governing Board was being given less freedom–and more constraints–in an amendment.

Most of the senators were in favor of the current wording in the C-USP proposal, which they said would allow for more flexibility and freedom for the board in making decisions.

Senior Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and Biology Professor Martha Cyert drew the Senate’s attention to a section of the amendment, which she said tasked the board with the job of figuring out how to determine whether the courses it has designated as satisfying a category “are in fact attaining the majority of the learning goals associated with that category.”

“Those assessment processes are a really, really important, huge task,” Cyert said. “Assigning that to the board is not realistic. None of us would agree to being on the board. It is not practical to give the board that task as well.”

In response, Economics Professor Caroline Hoxby said she did not think the task would be too difficult for the board.

“If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck,” Hoxby said. “We wouldn’t have to study every chemistry class before deciding which requirement it fulfills. The board would focus on a small set of courses that were much less clear [about their breadth distribution].”

The Senate voted to oppose the amendment to Board Governance, preferring the original C-USP wording.

The Senate will discuss recommendations about the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) and the annual budget report at its next meeting on May 31.

Josee Smith is a senior this year, majoring in anthropology with a minor in Spanish. She is the desk editor for the student groups beat and has spent her last 3 years at The Daily as both a staff writer and contributing writer. Originally from Washington State, Josee came to California for the warm weather and stayed for the awesome reporting. To contact her, please email jsmith11 'a' stanford.edu.

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