Faculty Senate hears report on undergraduate education

June 13, 2013, 8:50 p.m.

The Faculty Senate heard reports from both Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Harry Elam and the Emeriti Council on Thursday afternoon, in the body’s final meeting of the academic year.

Senate Chair Raymond Levitt M.S. ’73 Ph.D. ’75 opened the meeting by thanking members of the outgoing Senate for their work throughout the year, a sentiment that was subsequently reciprocated by the Senate’s Steering Committee.

President John Hennessy briefly drew attention to the recent accomplishments of Stanford’s female student-athletes, citing both Kori Carter ’14’s record-setting performance in the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Outdoor National Championships and the women’s tennis team’s victory in their own NCAA Championship.

“That was a close call,” Hennessy noted. “It would have been the first time in 37 years we hadn’t won an NCAA championship.”

Emeriti Council President David Abernethy, professor emeritus of political science, briefly reviewed the council’s work, singling out the offering of a quarterly lecture series entitled “Autobiographical Reflections” that has to date featured speakers such as Professor Emeritus of Management Science and Engineering William Perry ’49 M.S. ’50, Professor Emerita of English Nancy Packer and Professor Emeritus of the Graduate School of Business William Miller.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam subsequently reported on the success of various changes to the undergraduate academic experience made in recent years.

Elam framed the introduction of the Thinking Matters requirement as allowing students to access a broad range of perspectives from across the University in a quarter of their choosing. According to Elam, 90 percent of freshmen were admitted to either their first or second choice Thinking Matters course.

Elam also drew attention to student interest in Education as Self-Fashioning (ESF) seminars, which satisfy both Thinking Matters and Program in Writing and Rhetoric freshman requirements. 123 students enrolled in 5 ESF seminars over the course of the year.

“It made [students] think deeply and differently about what they were going to do at Stanford,” Elam noted.

For the 2013-14 academic year, nine fewer Thinking Matters courses will be offered, due to insufficient student interest in some courses.

Turning to Introductory Seminars (IntroSems), Elam noted that the removal of the three-quarter Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) program had naturally led to more scheduling room in which freshmen could enroll in IntroSems, inducing a slight increase in the proportion of freshmen taking at least one IntroSem.

Reviewing other academic programming reforms, Elam pointed to the creation of two new residential learning programs – “Immersion in the Arts: Living in Culture” and “Science in the Making: Integrated Learning Environment” — in Burbank next year and the embedding of writing specialists from the Program in Writing and Rhetoric into specific departments.

“It’s worked successfully,” Elam said, referencing trials with the history and human biology departments and the public policy program. “It’s something we’ll look to expand.”

According to Elam, academic departments have made great strides towards registering their classes under the new Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing requirement, which will take effect next year.

Elam also singled out wholly new initiatives undertaken by the University, including the creation of a Stanford Leadership Institute and a Stanford in New York City program. The latter would follow a similar format to that of the Stanford in Washington program, with daytime internships in arts, urban studies or finance followed by classes focused around creative entrepreneurship.

“We’re looking to have a pilot of this in the spring or summer of 2015,” Elam said.

Marshall Watkins is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily, having previously worked as the paper's executive editor and as the managing editor of news. Marshall is a junior from London majoring in Economics, and can be reached at mtwatkins "at" stanford "dot" edu.

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