The University Record, April 5, 1999
By Kerry Colligan
Differences in perspective divided panelists and audience members at the closing panel of the Third Annual Jerome B. Wiesner Symposium, "Transforming Undergraduate Learning: Where Do We Go from Here?"
Almost 100 attendees listened as the panelists discussed the importance of financial and institutional support for undergraduate education, particularly for providing undergraduate research experiences.
Shirley Malcom, director of education and human resource programs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, offered three topics for discussion in the undergraduate education debate. "We can't underestimate the power of the undergraduate research experience to give students their voice," she said.
Higher education also must examine the space between the arts and sciences to look at the higher education universe differently. Institutions need to be willing to look to the community to provide research opportunities. But the "community connection," she said, goes both ways. Universities need to offer research and inquiry opportunities to K-12 teachers. "You can't teach the value of research and inquiry if you have not experienced it," she concluded.
Ernest Smerdon, senior education associate at the National Science Foundation, focused on the importance of teaching undergraduates. "You are never in danger of losing a top-flight teacher," Smerdon began. Researchers and grant-getters are heavily recruited, good teachers are not. Targeting good teachers and recruiting them will help send a message that teaching is valued in higher education, he said.
The higher education community needs to examine its goals for undergraduate degrees. We need to provide efficient, effective education, Smerdon said, but we must not lose sight of the depth-vs-breadth debate.
"I'm speaking to the converted," said Janine Maddock, assistant professor of biology. "We all believe in undergraduate education. What we haven't talked about is how difficult this is to do.
"When I arrived [at the U-M] I received very sound advice. 'Get a few graduate students and technicians and lock yourself in your lab and you'll get tenure.' The worst thing I can do for my tenure track is take undergraduates into my lab."
It is very difficult to "stay true" to both teaching and research, she explained, because in applying for research grants there is no place for undergraduate training. That attitude is changing, she said, but generally institutions want more manuscripts for their dollar.
"Money and manuscripts are going to count more than undergraduates in the lab, and in a way it has to be that way--science has to be the top priority to compete for grants. But if teaching were valued more highly it would make a lot of our lives a little easier," Maddock said.
The tone of the discussion turned on the comments of Annette Kolodny, professor of comparative cultural and literary studies at the University of Arizona. She spoke passionately about using partnerships with public schools to reform the higher education curriculum and "educational apartheid" system currently in place.
"Research universities will have to develop partnerships with public schools. I mean partnerships that go both ways, where the university drops its historical arrogance that we have nothing to learn from the public schools," she said. Who better to teach us about the incoming class of students than K-12 teachers and students? she asked.
"Without those partnerships, the kids from the reservation, the barrio and the 'hood' will remain in educational apartheid. The end result is students who suffer from a paucity of imaginative thinking."
In addition to fostering partnerships, Kolodny suggested that higher education needs to examine its clientele. The fastest growing cohort is 25-38-year-old students, married with children. Higher education does a poor job of addressing the specific needs of those students, she said.
Kolodny's remarks were met with an ovation from one audience member, and jeering comments from others. At least one of her points was not lost.
"The problem," Malcom said at the close of the session, "is that we rant and rave among ourselves and don't make the trip to Capitol Hill." There is a political price that must be paid if your voice is to be heard, she said.