The University Record, January 18, 1993

Big curriculum decisions on horizon for LS&A

By Mary Jo Frank

LS&A faculty will be asked to make some high-stakes curriculum decisions in the upcoming months, according to Michael M. Martin.

They will be discussing such issues as adding a quantitative reasoning requirement for undergraduates, emphasizing writing and critical thinking in courses taken by first- and second-year students, and making sure that all students take an “interesting” small-enrollment course during their first year.

“The quality of our discussion, almost as much as the outcome of our actions, is an important indicator of the commitment of LS&A to improving undergraduate education,” Martin told his colleagues at their monthly meeting last Monday. Martin is associate dean for long-range planning and analysis and professor of biology.

“What we do can have an impact on our ability to recruit high-quality students, on our public image, our standing with the state Legislature, the success of The Campaign for Michigan, very possibly on how seriously we are taken by [Provost] Gil Whitaker and [President] Jim Duderstadt, and maybe also on how we feel about ourselves as members of a community of scholars that professes dedication to both teaching and research,” Martin added.

Underscoring Martin’s comments, Dean Edie N. Goldenberg said the issues to be discussed in February and March are “extraordinarily important for the future of our college.

“Issues of undergraduate education are on people’s minds, on graduates’ minds. It is the most compelling reason for most of the people considering major gifts to the College. It is very much on the minds of deans and administrators, presidents and provosts across the country in research institutions. It is very much on the mind of our legislators.”

LS&A, like all of the schools and colleges, will have to deal with budget constraints during the coming years, Goldenberg predicted. However, she noted that the provost has designated funds for the College based on its efforts in the undergraduate area.

“It’s very important that we take these matters seriously, that we talk them through, that we work as a collegial body and give it our very best,” Goldenberg said.

Drawing on the work of the Central Committee on the Undergraduate Experience and its predecessor, Martin said he

distilled the discussions of problems and reform objectives into seven recommendations:

—Make sure that all students take an “interesting” small-enrollment course during their first year.

—Emphasize writing and critical thinking in courses taken by first- and second-year students.

—Make language instruction a more integral component of a liberal arts education.

—Address the low level of math competence (numeracy) of many students.

—Improve introductory science and math courses.

—Improve the quality of the general education received by students in courses taken to meet the area distribution requirements.

—Address the anti-intellectual or anti-academic atmosphere that pervades student life outside the classroom.

Several committees are working on recommendations to deal with the first four reform objectives.

The committee looking into curriculum changes for first- and second-year students is expected to propose replacing the freshman composition requirement with a program called the Gateway Seminar Program that includes a menu of freshman seminars offered across LS&A, not just by the Department of English. It may also propose an alternative to the upper level writing requirement, Martin said. Such changes would require official faculty action.

The committee dealing with curriculum changes for first- and second-year students is chaired by Jay L. Robinson. Committee members are Alan V. Deardorff, Anne R. Gere, Philip J. Gorman, Patricia Y. Gurin, Richard A. Meisler,

Thomas N. Tentler, Rob Van der Voo and Robert A. Weisbuch.

“Of the three committees I have appointed, this is the one that is coming up with the recommendations that will have the most profound impact on undergraduate education at the U-M,” Martin said.

A second committee, chaired by Marilyn S. Fries, is considering ways to enhance language competence and cultural awareness among undergraduates by broadening the use of foreign languages across the curriculum. Committee members are Frederick R. Amrine, John C. Campbell, Frank P. Casa, Trisha R. Dvorak, Bruce Mannheim and Eliana Moya-Raggio.

A third committee, chaired by Philip J. Hanlon and Peter G. Hinman, is exploring the merits of adding a quantitative reasoning requirement to graduation requirements. Serving on the committee are Edward D. Rothman and Carl P. Simon. The committee’s draft report will be considered by the LS&A Curriculum Committee and Executive Committee this month, Martin said, and if it is approved in some form by those two bodies, it will be placed on the LS&A faculty’s February agenda.

Since the committee is expected to recommend a change in the College’s graduation requirements, a favorable vote by the faculty would be required for implementation, reported Martin, who added he hopes the faculty will vote on the recommendation at their March meeting.

Martin said he has not yet addressed the non-academic atmosphere of student life but it will be a top priority agenda item for academic year 1993–94.

As for altering courses taken to meet area distribution requirements, Martin said he is not convinced that the quality of distribution courses is a problem or that creating a lot of new courses would be a good solution.

He reported that it hasn’t been necessary for him to do anything about improving introductory math and science courses because the U-M’s science departments have taken the initiative in major curricular reform.

“Last year and this I administered external reviews of the chemistry and math departments and the external review teams described both departments as national leaders in curricular reform and as models for research universities dedicated to reinvigorating undergraduate education.

“In this area of curriculum reform, my plan is simply to stay out of the way of the people who know what they’re doing,” Martin said.