The University Record, March 15, 1993

LS&A faculty may vote on quantitative reasoning requirement in April

By Mary Jo Frank

A quantitative reasoning course would be “an excellent and timely addition to graduation requirements,” according to Department of Communication Chair Neil M. Malamuth.

It is essential every graduate complete a course that requires quantitative reasoning, added Malamuth, who moved at the March 8 LS&A meeting that the faculty approve the principle of a graduation requirement in quantitative reasoning. The proposal would be resubmitted to the faculty for final approval in January 1994.

The faculty will debate the motion, and possibly vote on it, at their April meeting.

The Task Force on a Quantitative Reasoning Requirement proposes that :

—LS&A students entering fall term 1994 be required to take a quantitative reasoning course; and,

—A number of new courses be developed to serve students in the social sciences and humanities for whom current quantitative course offerings may not be appropriate.

Michael M. Martin, LS&A associate dean for undergraduate education, said the quantitative reasoning course proposal addresses concerns about American college students’ appalling low numeracy skills. Studies have shown that during college many students’ quantitative skills stay constant or even decline.

“This led to recognition that something is wrong with the way we’re teaching math,” Martin explained.

The proposal is an outgrowth of work done in the past several years in LS&A to rethink the undergraduate experience.

Peter G. Hinman, professor of mathematics and chair of the task force, said that new courses will need to be developed if the faculty approves the new requirement in principle.

Many faculty members would feel more comfortable spending the resources to develop such courses if they believe the faculty will give its final approval in January, he added.

“We shouldn’t waste everyone’s time developing proposals in detail if the faculty is not interested.”

Many students arrive on campus with negative ideas about quantitative courses, Hinman acknowledged. Some overcome their anxiety and distaste for mathematics and enroll in such a course. An estimated 25 percent of LS&A students never take a course involving quantitative reasoning.

The premise is that students are in this predicament because of a lack of training in elementary and secondary school, not lack of ability, according to Hinman.

Rather than promoting failure similar to that experienced in high school, students need a new start so that they develop the notion that quantitative ideas are something they can handle.

To “lure” students, Hinman suggested that quantitative reasoning be added as an adjunct to subjects in which they are already interested. Although such courses may contain statistics, the aim of the proposal is not to develop more statistics courses.

Courses with substantial quantitative reasoning components already are being offered in linguistics, political science and sociology, Hinman noted.