The University Record, October 29, 2001

Commission releases report to enhance student education

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

(Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)
A commission appointed to propose ways to enhance the undergraduate experience at the University has challenged the University community to engage in a dialogue primed by the ideas contained in its report released last week.

The group, appointed by President Lee C. Bollinger, was convened early last year with former Provost Nancy Cantor as chair.

“I am deeply grateful for the Commission’s thoughtful engagement with the myriad issues arising from the undergraduate program,” Bollinger says. “The recommendations are far ranging, and I encourage the campus community to spend time discussing and considering the proposals.”

The President’s Commission on the Undergraduate Experience recommends fundamental changes in the academic culture of the University, including the development of new facilities and programs such as the Global Intercultural Experiences for Undergraduates Program. It also recognizes prior successes, including new ways of rewarding and recognizing teaching excellence and highly successful programs such as the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and programs administered by the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives.

The major concern the Commission expressed in its report was to move the undergraduate experience from one that “often remains disjointed and compartmentalized” to one characterized by “intercon-nectedness, dynamism, diversity and reflectiveness.”

“The whole University will need to rise to the Commission’s challenge to deepen our already strong commitment to our undergraduates,” says Lisa A. Tedesco, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “We need to help undergraduates navigate Michigan’s tremendous existing resources more effectively, encourage greater connections between faculty and students, and further rich learning opportunities in and out of the classroom. We want our students to find and benefit from all of the University’s treasures, and the Commission challenges us to enhance these assets and to create new, innovative programs along the way.”

According to the report, the Commission was guided in its deliberations by a vision of the University community as a kind of city. “Good, livable cities embody many of the virtues and experiences that undergraduate education at the University can provide. Cities are both a gathering-place and a crossroads, compact and set apart but dedicated to the open, dynamic interchange of ideas, experiences, and goods among intimates and strangers.”

Highlights of the Commission’s proposals include:

  • Creating a Sophomore Year Initiative with improved housing, advising and intellectual programs for second-year students as one means of treating each undergraduate’s career as a life-course journey.

  • Building and adapting all residence halls to be more like the existing Residential College.

  • Increasing faculty presence in residential and social settings

  • Devising a system of rewards and incentives for faculty commitment to undergraduate education.

  • Developing an enhanced global, transnational emphasis, including expanding study-abroad programs and involving multicultural and international students more fully in campus life.

  • Establishing the Dewey Center for Undergraduate Life and Learning, named in honor of American philosopher, educator and U-M faculty member, John Dewey.

    “It was a real honor to serve on this Commission with others who feel as strongly about undergraduate education as I do, “ says Carol Boyd, associate professor of nursing. “Ultimately, we envisioned an experience for our students as part of a dynamic and responsible community with global connections. We challenge faculty to increase their presence—beyond the classroom—and join students in creating and enjoying shared spaces.”

    Students also were represented on the Commission. Mechanical engineering undergraduate Ryan Majkrzak is gratified that student input “factored substantially into the report’s themes and recommendations. I believe the genuine concern for the success and happiness of undergraduates felt by the members of the Commission is reflected in the report. I hope the Commission’s work will help lay the foundation for changes that will improve and enrich the lives of undergraduate students at Michigan for a long time to come.”

    Bollinger says in the next few weeks he will work with the Provost’s Office “to appoint a steering committee to oversee a series of formal and informal campus discussions and provide some seed funding to assist faculty, students and staff in the development of the most promising of the ideas.”

    The complete report is on the Web at www.umich.edu/pres/undergrad/.