The University Record, December 4, 2000

Provost discusses faculty’s roles as teachers, partners

By Theresa Maddix

At the forefront of Provost Nancy Cantor’s “smorgasbord of topics and initiatives” at the Nov. 20 Senate Assembly meeting was “our role as teachers and partners with undergraduates.”

Cantor was pleased with the recent rankings given by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), College Student Report released Nov. 13. The University scored well when compared with other research institutions and when compared nationally. Particular areas of strength were academic challenge (55.1 compared with an average of 48.8 for research universities and 50.2 nationally), active and collaborative learning (42.3 compared with 37.8 and 40.9), and enriching educational experience (56.2 compared with 50.2 and 49.3).

Cantor says the rankings show good progress in “the things the campus as a whole has been working on for the past 10 years. These areas are beginning to come forth.” Examples of these efforts are the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), first-year seminars, Curriculum 2000, living-learning communities, intergroup relations programs and the Arts of Citizenship Program.

The first annual NSSE report, said Cantor, is a more appropriate means than the U.S. News and World Report rankings to “benchmark the undergraduate education practices.” The survey’s five benchmarks are as follows:

  • Level of academic challenge

  • Degree of active and collaborative learning

  • Student interactions with faculty members

  • Kinds of enriching educational experiences

  • Supportive campus environment

    Approximately, 63,000 students from more than 275 four-year colleges and universities responded to the survey co-sponsored by the Carnegie Foundations for the Advancement of Teaching and the Pew Forum for Undergraduate Learning, and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. More information on the NSSE College Student Report is available on the Web at

    The survey, Cantor said, confirms many of the findings coming out of the Commission on the Undergraduate Experience. U-M, while scoring well as a research institution, scored at or below the norm nationally in the areas of student interactions with faculty members (27.3 compared with 31.2 nationally) and supportive campus environment (58.1 compared with 59.8 nationally).

    The Commission, chaired by Cantor, is looking at ways “to capitalize on the level of academic challenge and the richness of offerings that you just can’t get in a standard liberal arts curriculum. At the same time,” she said, “we want to create a set of ways for more intimate relationships, for partnering faculty, graduate, professional students and undergraduates; providing a navigational tool, a map through the campus community, through its rich set of offerings. Students tell us they learn too late the things they could have done.

    “The Commission has used the metaphor of the University as a great city, as a cosmopolitan center with its richness. But, like any great city you can get lost if you don’t have a map. We need to create some new good maps.”

    The national survey, Cantor said, will provide a means to see the effects over time of new programs coming out of the Commission.

    Cantor also announced the creation of the Provost’s Council on Student Honors, done in collaboration with many of the deans. The Council is interested in “engaging students across campus in a sense of specialness.” Co-chaired by Linda Groat, professor of architecture and urban planning, and Ralph Williams, professor of English, the Council will look at the nature of honors with questions such as “Is achievement limited to measuring GPA or reserved for honors students, or are other areas of achievement worth recognizing for honors, areas not traditionally recognized?”

    The numbers for underrepresented students in this year’s freshmen class are up, Cantor reported (See enrollment article, page 3). “We are making strides in connecting undergraduate admissions, faculty from schools and colleges, and our alums. It’s very competitive out there right now for students.” The Alumni Association also is playing a bigger role in out-of-state recruitment, she noted.

    “On a much less uplifting note,” Cantor said, “there is the great tragedy of the student who recently died of celebratory drinking.” Cantor emphasized the need for a renewed, collaborative effort for addressing the potential dangers of drinking.