The University Record, April 19, 1993

LS&A faculty members face tough homework assignment

By Mary Jo Frank

As homework assignments go, it’s a tough one: create courses in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities to meet a proposed new quantitative reasoning requirement for all LS&A students.

The courses must be intellectually rigorous yet attractive enough to entice the 25 percent of LS&A students who systematically avoid math.

The assignment is due January 1994.

In a voice vote last Monday, LS&A faculty members took on the assignment by approving “in principle” a graduation requirement in quantitative reasoning that will require each student seeking a B.S., A.B. or B.G.S. degree to complete successfully one course (of three credits or more) in quantitative reasoning. The requirement would apply to all students entering LS&A starting in fall 1994. The requirement will be resubmitted to the faculty for final approval in January 1994.

Noting that developing attractive courses in a variety of disciplines that could be used to fill a quantitative reasoning requirement would require many faculty hours, Michael M. Martin, LS&A associate dean for undergraduate education, asked his colleagues to endorse the proposal only if they believe the concept of a quantitative reasoning requirement is sound.

Faculty members who think such a requirement is flawed in concept or that LS&A already has too many requirements were asked to vote against it now rather than waiting until January.

Before the vote, a number of faculty members voiced some reservations about yet-to-be-worked-out details.

J. David Singer, professor of political science, favors such a requirement, but said he would like to see it more broadly understood as “scientific reasoning.” He also would like to see faculty in general embed a greater emphasis on scientific reasoning in their courses.

Chemistry Prof. Billy J. Evans concurred, saying “Students should be enmeshed in studies here that require them to do quantitative reasoning.”

If the College seriously hopes to enhance students’ quantitative abilities, such a course should be required in their first or second year at the U-M, Evans added.

A quantitative reasoning requirement is a “logical and fit companion” to the College’s writing requirement, according to Robert A. Weisbuch, professor and chair of the Department of English Language and Literature.

However, Weisbuch described a list of possible course titles culled from quantitative reasoning course offerings at other universities and at the U-M as a “scary list, much too eclectic.” He said the list of 22 courses, ranging from “Technology of Ancient Architecture” to “The Electrification of Los Angeles” and “The Industrial Revolution in America,” includes courses that could border on shams.

Weisbuch and others would prefer a much narrower list of courses as options to meet the quantitative reasoning requirement.

Michael W. Traugott, professor of communication and a member of the Task Force on a Quantitative Reasoning Requirement, said the list was only meant to demonstrate the diversity of courses possible, particularly in the social sciences and humanities.

Howard Schuman, professor and chair of sociology, asked if there are any plans for additional funding for teaching assistants in courses designed to meet the quantitative reasoning requirement because, he said, it sounds like such courses would require a great deal of faculty-student interaction.

Dean Edie N. Goldenberg said no funding proposal has been developed yet.

English Prof. Ralph Williams would prefer to see a quantitative reasoning requirement presented in the larger context of LS&A curricular reform. He added he would be more comfortable if he saw names attached to the arduous project of developing courses, an effort he predicted will require a “large intellectual effort.”

History Prof. Nicholas H. Steneck, who supported the idea of voting in principle for a quantitative reasoning requirement, added, “It is a tremendous challenge to be addressed. It had better be a substantial proposal when it comes back in January.”