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DOCUMENTS OF THE GENERAL FACULTY
Following are the minutes of the regular Faculty Council meeting of November 21, 2005.
Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
The General Faculty
MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
NOVEMBER 21, 2005
The second regular meeting of the Faculty Council for the academic year 2005-2006 was held in the Main Building, Room 212, Monday, November 21, 2005, at 2:15 p.m .
Present: Lawrence D. Abraham, Seema Agarwala, Peter R. Antoniewicz, Efraim P. Armendariz, Matthew J. Bailey, Jeri Baker, Susan N. Beretvas, Pascale R. Bos, Patrick L. Brockett, Elizabeth Ann Brummett, Cynthia J. Buckley, Lorenzo F. (Frank) Candelaria, Patricia A. Carter, Miles L. Crismon, James W. Deitrick, Diana M. DiNitto, Philip Doty, James L. Erskine, Lester L. Faigley, Larry R. Faulkner, Linda Ferreira-Buckley, Kenneth Flamm, Richard R. Flores, Jeanne Freeland-Graves, Thomas J. Garza, Jessica L. Geier, John C. (Jack) Gilbert, William P. Glade, Linda L. Golden, Juan C. Gonzalez, Oscar Gonzalez, Sue A. Greninger, Phillip Hebert, James L. Hill, Martha F. Hilley, Archie L. Holmes, James O. Jirsa, David Justin, Robert C. Koons, Desiderio Kovar, Nancy P. Kwallek, Dominic L. Lasorsa, Desmond F. Lawler, William S. Livingston, Glenn Y. Masada, Charles C. McDowell, Julia Mickenberg, Karl H. Miller, Kate Nanney, Omar A. Ochoa, Edward W. (Ted) Odell, Patricia C. Ohlendorf, Melissa L. Olive, Alba A. Ortiz, Yolanda C. Padilla, Bruce P. Palka, Theodore E. Pfeifer, Kenneth M. Ralls, Mary Ann R. Rankin, Wayne Rebhorn, Linda E. Reichl, Clare E. Richardson, Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, Peter J. Riley, Christine E. Schmidt, Michael B. Stoff, Ben G. Streetman, Pauline T. Strong, Daniel A. Updegrove, Erica L. Whittington.
Absent: Teresa Graham Brett, Joanna M. Brooks, Douglas C. Burger, Patricia L. Clubb, Andrew P. Dillon, Janet M. Dukerich, Richard B. Eason, Sheldon Ekland-Olson (excused), Stanislav Emelianov, William L. Fisher, Robert Freeman, George W. Gau, Charles R. Hale, Donald A. Hale, Roderick P. Hart, Thomas M. Hatfield, Fred M. Heath, Kevin P. Hegarty, Lori K. Holleran (excused), Bobby R. Inman, Joni L. Jones, Manuel J. Justiz, Richard W. Lariviere, Janice Leoshko, Steven W. Leslie, William C. Powers, Victoria Rodriguez, John J. Ruszkiewicz (excused), Juan M. Sanchez, Dolores Sands, M. Michael Sharlot, David W. Springer, Frederick R. Steiner, Janice S. Todd (excused), Angela Valenzuela (excused), N. Bruce Walker, John M. Weinstock, Alexandria K. Wettlaufer (excused), Barbara W. White, Karin G. Wilkins (excused).
Voting Members: 59 present, 16 absent, 75 total. Non-Voting Members: 11 present, 24 absent, 35 total. Total Members: 70 present, 40 absent, 110 total.1
I. REPORT OF THE SECRETARY.
The written report appears in D 4223-4229. There were no questions or comments.
II. APPROVAL OF MINUTES.
The minutes of the Faculty Council meeting of September 19, 2005, (D 4153-4159 ) were approved by voice vote .
III. COMMUNICATION WITH THE PRESIDENT
A. Comments by the President — None.
B. Questions to the President.
From Professor Tom Palaima, classics
1. In the just concluded presidential search for your successor, the general faculty, staff and students were given no opportunity ahead of the announcement of a single finalist to meet with and interview candidates on campus. Do you think it is wise essentially to forego such a meaningful stage in the selection of the president? What kind of signal do you think this sends to the three major human components of the University about how much their input counts in shaping the goals and values of the University?
President Larry Faulkner said presidential searches involve a difficult trade-off between openness of the process and the need to attract and retain the most capable pool of candidates. He said a search’s public phase can deter qualified individuals from participating. For example, there had been one person involved in the UT Austin presidential search who had indicated he would not participate in a multiple candidate public phase. President Faulkner said he thought the Regents were attempting to address the balance between confidentiality and openness in the design of the UT Austin search. The design that had been utilized required the active participation of faculty, staff, and students in the selection of search committee members and the search process itself than in the later stages of the interview process. He said that if the Regents choose to use this design again in the future, constituencies on campus need to pay close attention to the selection and composition of the search committee. President Faulkner said he knew of no leading private institution that included a public on-campus interview phase and the practice was not that common today among public institutions. Noting that the governing board has the final decision-making authority, he said he thought the Regents had chosen what they thought was an appropriate process for UT Austin.
President Faulkner then invited Executive Vice Chancellor Teresa Sullivan and President Emeritus Peter Flawn, co-chairs of the search advisory committee, to comment on the process and answer questions. Executive Vice Chancellor Sullivan said the five to ten names sent forward by the search advisory committee provided “an exceedingly strong list” from which the Regents could not make an error. She confirmed that one of the finalists had said he would not participate in “a beauty contest” because of the position he currently held and the damage it would do to him professionally to participate in a public phase. President Emeritus Flawn said the caliber of candidates UT Austin sought were well situated and insisted upon confidentiality, and he felt a competitive public phase would likely result in candidate attrition. He agreed with Executive Vice Chancellor Sullivan that the process had been “very good” and then said the faculty representatives on the search committee all actively participated. He said the candidate list included both strong candidates from inside
and outside the campus, but the vow of confidentiality did not allow discussion of candidate names and numbers.
Professor Palaima (classics) said he believed in an open democratic process. Although he understood the issue regarding scrutiny of a candidate on his or her home campus, he said he was more concerned about open review by the faculty, staff, and students of the finalists here on the UT Austin campus. He asked about the frequency with which single candidates had been selected by the Regents in the past and if this were becoming the norm for the future. Saying that faculty members at private institutions had some say in the selection of their institutions’ board members, he noted that this was not true at UT Austin. He said his experience indicated that committee activities were quite different from public activities, and it was easier for there to be a healthy exchange of information between the faculty and candidates than between the faculty and the one president designee. Professor Palaima expressed concern about relying on the anecdotal experience of one candidate’s unwillingness to participate in an open public phase and asked if the other candidates were polled about their willingness. Calling the process “flawed,” Professor Palaima said he had “very grave concerns for what is going on at this University and how strongly the faculty have a voice, and the students have a voice, and the staff have a voice.’
President Emeritus Flawn responded that Texas was a board and commission state, where the governor appoints the members of boards and commissions who then determine policies and procedures. He said the Board of Regents had primarily delegated the authority over the academic program to the faculty. Executive Vice Chancellor Sullivan assured Professor Palaima that he would in no way be labeled for asking questions about the process since that was the role of an academic. Saying the recent process had varied from past ones here at UT Austin, she said the method used was not unprecedented in the UT System. For example, Bob Witt was the sole finalist for the UT Arlington presidency. She said she had observed a widespread change in attitude in the job seeking climate, which she thought was due to negative outcomes happening to unsuccessful candidates on their home campuses. She said she thought it was not so much a move toward anti-democratic practices as a move to keep the best candidates participating in the search process. She said she could not say if the recent sole candidate outcome signaled a changing future trend here at UT Austin because that was entirely up to the Board of Regents. President Emeritus Flawn quoted John Silber, a past UT administrator, as saying “The fact that we live in a democracy does not mean that all the decisions made therein must be made democratically.” President Faulkner clarified that he had not polled all the candidates regarding their willingness to participate in the public phase. Saying he did not think the process had been flawed, President Faulkner again mentioned the difficulty of balancing confidentiality with openness. He said he thought the UT Austin process was “actually a fairly open one.”
2. (Also for the provost.) What plans are now in place or being considered to hold thorough, open, public discussions among faculty, students and staff concerning the proposals and the alternative recommendations of the recently concluded Task Force on Curricular Reform?
Bill Powers states that the next capital campaign should focus on implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on Curricular Reform. Don't you think that we would have some open discussion about those recommendations first, before deciding that they should be the basis of how we will spend future resources? To make those curricular reform suggestions the top priority for fund raising, when we have many other important areas that should be considered, strikes me as problematical without full and open discussion?
President Faulkner responded that the task force’s recommendations were now the responsibility of the Faculty Council, and he expected the University was about to enter into an open discussion on the curricular reform recommendations. He said he thought the debate on reform would be completed before the next phase of development at the University was initiated. He expected fundraising to focus on recommendations of the
From Professor Susan Sage Heinzelman, English:
Commission of 125 and the Task Force on Enrollment Strategy rather than just the curriculum reform measures.
Legislation on disciplining and discovery originating from the Grievance Committee was sent to the Systems Office in mid-August for approval. Almost three months has passed and we have heard nothing. How much longer do you think we will have to wait to hear?
President Faulkner said he had received a November 18 report from Beverly Page of the Office of General Council saying the policy was being actively reviewed by Patti Ohlendorf, Susan Bradshaw, and Helen Bright. Ms. Page said she hoped the review would be completed in one month.
IV. REPORT OF THE CHAIR — None.
V. REPORT OF THE CHAIR ELECT— None.
VI. UNFINISHED BUSINESS. — None.
VII. REPORTS OF THE GENERAL FACULTY, COLLEGES AND SCHOOLS, AND COMMITTEES.
A. Action on the Recommendations of the ad hoc Committee on Course Instructor Surveys (D 4250-4253).
Professor Marvin L. Hackert (chemistry and biochemistry and committee chair) reported that the committee’s proposal had been reorganized to clarify the recommendations presented at the September Faculty Council meeting. He said the intent of the first two recommendations was to return the course-instructor survey to the way it had been handled a couple of years ago before ownership of the student comments had come into question.
Executive Vice President and Provost Stephen Monti said he thought it would be difficult to vote individually on the recommendations due to their interrelatedness. He said the student comments were used in promotion, tenure and merit evaluations, and in determining teaching awards and membership in the Academy of Distinguished Teachers. Although he said no single response had any real weight, he thought the pattern of written comments over time was as statistically significant as the quantified responses to objective questions. He said he felt the proposed waiver system would selectively restrict the comments and diminish their value. He recommended that the written comments should be available internally to both the administration and the respective faculty member and be subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) so they would not be available to third parties.
Chair Hackert responded that the committee was not recommending that the written comments be eliminated or that the administration not be allowed to see the comments. He said the intent was to return the process to the way it had been for many years where the comments were the property of the faculty member much the way tax records are the property of the taxpayer who is obligated to release them in case of audit. The committee was also concerned about minimizing the costs of duplicating and storage of the documents. He said he had learned from administrators that there have been very few instances where problems have occurred with voluntary compliance when administrators needed to see the records of faculty members. He said the committee thought written comments should be interpreted with a great deal of caution and that anonymity must be preserved to prevent misuse. Citing his experience as a former department chair, Professor Hackert said the statistical values were generally the most useful in identifying the extremes on the continuum from excellent to poor teaching. He said the University should consider the cost effectiveness of adopting rules that require a great deal of expense and produce little benefit.
When Professor Linda Ferreira-Buckley (English and rhetoric) spoke in favor of retaining the written comments as part of the official record, Professor Hackert responded that the committee was not advocating the elimination of the comments. He said that the committee’s research had revealed there were few problems with administrators having access to the comments when the comments were the property of the faculty member. However, many faculty members during the past two years have reported that they could not have access to their student comments. When Professor Ferreira-Buckley asked if a faculty member could choose not to submit written comments for administrative review under the proposed recommendation, Professor Hackert said that was true; however, he pointed out this had been a rare problem in the past.
Cale McDowell (Senate of College Councils, graduate student) spoke against the proposed motion saying that students believed their written comments on the surveys were being transmitted automatically to administrators. He said he would have to vote against the proposal because the Senate had passed a resolution saying the written comments provided a meaningful and useful context for the quantitative data, which are actually limited in conveying student perceptions about instruction. Omar Ochoa (president, Student Government) said his research on the proposal had found that people are confused. Therefore, he recommended that action be delayed until better understanding of the issues existed. He said student government had passed a resolution against transferring ownership of the comments to faculty members because students expected that the comments would be utilized by the administration and did not want their release to be voluntary. He said he thought there were other ways for faculty members to gain access to the written comments
When Professor Phillip Doty (information) asked if one of the major concerns of the committee had been that the student comments would be subject to the Open Records Act, Professor Hackert said that was one of the issues. He went on to explain that for twenty years the forms had been the property of the respective faculty member and their release had been on a voluntary basis. As the result of a legal opinion, ownership had been recast just over the past eighteen months. When Professor Doty asked about the FERPA impact, Professor Hackert said the committee had been greatly influenced by the legal opinion that a faculty member could not see the written comments of a student unless the student signed a waiver of FERPA rights. He said that was the reason the committee thought it would be straightforward to inform the students that when comments were provided, the faculty member would be able to see them.
Professor Doty then commented that regardless of one’s view of the committee’s recommendations, there appeared to be an irresolvable dilemma. FERPA requires that student interests be protected, and the Open Records Act says the comments have to be made public if there is a request. This means that whether the committee’s recommendations were approved or not, the current situation was basically untenable. Professor Hackert said the committee believed that passage of the first two motions would preserve the written comments and also sidestep the issue of FERPA protection. He said the proposed recommendations would also sidestep the legal requirements of having the University provide central storage of the written comments for seven to ten years.
Professor Kenneth Flamm (LBJ School) said he thought voting down the current set of committee recommendations would leave the status quo, which he thought would be untenable. The faculty member would be left with the inconsistent situation of having to store and maintain large numbers of documents of a quasi-official status since they could be used for administrative purposes. Professor Flamm said he thought an improved questionnaire that contained additional detailed items could be developed that would make the written comments unnecessary. Professor Hackert pointed out that the committee had recommended that an improved questionnaire be considered as a possible solution to the written comments. Saying other alternate information-gathering mechanism would no doubt be available for future use, Professor Hackert, however, noted that the non passage of the committee’s recommendations would leave the University in its current confusing state.
When Professor Julia Mickenberg (American studies) asked if there would be repercussions for faculty members who did not voluntarily submit the comments for administrative purposes if requested, Professor Hackert said he thought that would be the case. When Professor Larry Abraham (curriculum and instruction) commented that having one form, part of which would be official and part of which would be unofficial, would be confusing, Chair Alba Ortiz clarified that the summary of numerical data would be the official record and the forms would be returned to the faculty member as they had been in the past.
Professor Janet Staiger (radio, television, and film) emphasized the importance of the numerical information as the official record since this is generally used to identify cases where review of student comments could be important. She pointed out that if the written comments were University rather than individual property, faculty members could not share the comments for employment purposes. She said there had been cases in her department where individuals could not share their student comments when on job searches due to the fact that the comments were FERPA protected.
There being no further comments, Chair Ortiz called for the vote on the motion that the official University Course Instructor Survey consist only of the numerical report from the objective questions. The motion passed by voice vote. When Erica Whittington (Graduate Student Assembly) asked for a hand count of the vote, the motion passed 37 in favor and 16 opposed.
Chair Ortiz called for the vote on the second motion that unofficial student written comments will be elicited via procedures that make them for faculty only use for improved teachings, not subjecting them to potential problems associated with FERPA. When Professor Pauline Strong asked if the wording of the second motion implied that the comments could not be used for any purpose other than improving teaching, Professor Hackert said that was not the committee’s intent. After considerable discussion and effort to clarify the meaning of the motion particularly with regard to the official versus unofficial status of the comments, Professor Desmond Lawler (civil engineering) suggested that motion be amended to read as follows: “Student written comments will be elicited via procedures that make them not subject to potential problems associated with FERPA.” Professor Hackert agreed to accept this as a friendly amendment. Chair Ortiz called for the vote on the amended motion, and it passed 34 in favor and 11 opposed by a show of hands.
Professor Hackert said motion three required that when documents were turned in for review that all documents had to be submitted, and motion four asked that the faculty be informed in writing by the University about proper storage and handling of the documents. When Professor Flamm said he was confused regarding what faculty rights and obligations were involved if the written comments were not official documents, Professor Hackert said the scanned numerical report would constitute the official record, and the faculty member would retain ownership of the forms containing the student comments. Professor Lawler said the presence of the word “unofficial” in the implication section regarding the motion was confusing and should be deleted although the term was essentially irrelevant to the motion. Professor Hackert said he didn’t think the existence of the word unofficial in the implications section should be of concern. He added that he thought new approaches to gaining feedback from students were being developed and would likely be implemented in the next couple of years. Professor David Justin (theater and dance) said motion four’s wording, “including the storage, handling and retention of past and future student related comments related to FERPA law,” was confusing since the Council had decided that students would be waiving their FERPA rights when they provided comments. Professor Hackert responded that the wording, “past and present,” was needed because there could be documents collected during two time periods when the interpretations regarding the status of the written comments differed. When Professor Justin asked to what extent a faculty member would need to keep future records, Professor Hackert said motion four addressed this by saying the administration would need to inform the faculty when the lawyers determine this.
Chair Ortiz called for a vote on the two motions together. Motions three and four pertaining to requirements regarding document submission and education of the faculty were approved by voice vote.
B. Report of the Task Force on Curricular Reform.
Chair Ortiz announced that the Report of the Task Force on Curricular Reform would be presented in the following three parts: (1) overview of the task force recommendations by Professor Paul Woodruff (philosophy, Plan II Honors), (2) report of the alternative recommendation by Professor David Hillis (integrative biology), and (3) plans on how to solicit input from the Faculty Council and the General Faculty regarding the report by Chair Ortiz.
See Appendix A for the complete reports given by Professors Woodruff and Hillis.
After thanking both professors for addressing the Council, Chair Ortiz briefly outlined the tentative plans the Faculty Council Executive Committee had developed to conduct faculty deliberations regarding the report. First, a dedicated email address, email@example.com, has been established so that members of the Faculty Council and General Faculty can provide open-ended comments and suggestions about the task force’s recommendations. Second, the Executive Committee is asking that each college or school hold a forum to discuss the report. These forums are to be organized and facilitated by the Council representatives from each respective college or school and held between January and mid-March. Although it is expected that the forums will be tailored to meet the specific interests and concerns of the individual units, a structure will be provided so that information can be aggregated across the campus. Third, three open forums are tentatively planned for January, February, and March. One will focus on the core curriculum recommendations, including the signature courses, flags, and themes. Another will deal with organizational issues and concerns, including the University College and the General Undergraduate Advising Center. The third forum will provide an opportunity for open discussion about all of the recommendations. Council members and those involved in the open forums will be asked to provide summaries of the key points and recommendations resulting from the forums. Fourth, the Executive Committee is also attempting to identify other groups whose comments on the proposed recommendations are needed, such as undergraduate advisors and students. Chair Ortiz said that Cale McDowell had indicated that student councils in the colleges and schools were already being engaged in discussions, and the Senate of College Councils plans to issue a formal response. Fifth, after collecting input from the various forums and groups, the Executive Committee plans to develop and conduct a structured survey, probably with the help of the Office of Survey Research, to obtain feedback from faculty across campus. Chair Ortiz said the Executive Committee would refer specific recommendations to the Educational Policy Committee, which is the standing University committee charged with moving curricular recommendations forward. The committee, chaired by Professor Archie Holmes (electrical and computer engineering) will be considering the input, deliberating the alternatives, and making action recommendations to the Faculty Council. Chair Ortiz said she hoped the Council would receive a report at the May Faculty Council meeting after the input had been aggregated; however, there may be discussion at earlier meetings on specific issues. Since the plans were still tentative, the Executive Committee welcomed suggestions and recommendations from Council members.
Student Government President Omar Ochoa reported that a committee of students had been appointed to make a formal response from Student Government on the report. The committee plans to conduct forums and focus groups. He said Student Government would like to participate in the forums planned by the Faculty Council Executive Committee. Chair Ortiz said she thought coordination was a great idea so efforts would not be duplicated.
VIII. NEW BUSINESS.
A. Resolution Endorsing Texas Faculty Senate Resolution on Texas A&M Kingsville Faculty Senate.
Due to the length of the meeting, Chair Ortiz deferred this item until the December meeting. She explained that the resolution, which is posted on the Council Web site, essentially endorses the right of the faculty to function as a body and make its views known without fear of retribution.
IX. ANNOUNCEMENTS AND COMMENTS — None.
A. Open House, Office of the General Faculty, 4-6 p.m. or immediately following the Faculty Council meeting, WMB 2.102 (adjacent to the University Post Office).
B. The new email address for sending comments and opinions relating to the recommendations from the Task Force on Curricular Reform is firstname.lastname@example.org.
X. QUESTIONS TO THE CHAIR — None.
Adjourned at 4:25 p.m.
Distributed through the Faculty Council Web site on December 9, 2005. Copies are available on request from the Office of the General Faculty, WMB 2.102, F9500.
Report by Professor Paul Woodruff
Thank you. This has been a long meeting. Do people need to stand up and move around for a minute before we go on? A number of members of the Task Force On Curricular Reform are present. Will they please stand, so the Faculty Council can see who they are? Of course, I gather that all of these are either members of the Faculty Council or have privileges of the floor for today since we are presenting our report.
The committee put in about 100 hours of very hard work on this report. What you actually see is just the tip of the iceberg. It represents only a quintessence of what we discussed and what we came up with. So I would like to ask you to take it very seriously, as it is the result of a lot of very careful thought. Our goal was to produce a plan for offering a common intellectual experience that would leave an imprint on every student who graduates from this University. We were thinking of a unique imprint, a UT imprint, and, at the same time, we hoped to prepare all of our students to be informed, critical citizens of the world.
We recognize that this University in many areas is a world leader in educating students in specialized disciplines, and we rejoice in that. But, we felt, like the Commission of 125, that UT is lagging in the area of general education, and on this we place a great deal of importance. Now we also recognized that we have a number of excuses for mediocrity in this area: (1) the low ratio of faculty to students, which is related to problems in funding, (2) the lack of control over the curriculum owing to restrictions from the legislature and the coordinating board. The third excuse that we have for not doing an excellent job in this area is that we’ve become a University of very strong and independent colleges, and we don’t have the mechanism for exerting a strong, central influence on educational policy. But we don’t want to make those excuses. We wanted to try to change this in every way we could—to pull back towards the center, to give the University a center of educational gravity that it seems to have lost. We wanted to applaud efforts to improve the ratio of faculty to students. And we very much wanted to take up the charge to improve the area of curriculum that we do control, which is quite substantial.
We made five recommendations, and you can read the text, which was very carefully written. I’m not going to read it or even summarize all of it, but I do want to hit the high points and explain how we came to the conclusions that are in the report. I’m not going to do it in exactly the order of the report. I want to start with the core because that really is the center of the whole proposal. How can we in this University develop a more solid educational core for all students, when we know that many of our students are in degree programs that leave them very little space, even for electives? And, the answer we came up with, and I really think it is the only answer, is a system of flagged courses. A course that is flagged is a course that students would take in the normal course of events towards a degree, but which carries a flag, and indicator that the course satisfies an additional requirement. This is similar to the model of the substantial writing component courses.
We came up with six flags over the Texas curriculum. First of all, in writing, we believe, on the basis of a lot of evidence, that teaching communicative skills works best if it’s done over four years. When students take writing courses in the first year and then don’t find that reinforced afterwards, studies show the freshman courses have virtually no effect. But when there is continued emphasis on writing, the progress does continue. So we are proposing, in addition to Rhetoric 306, there would be three writing flags, and we advise students to take one writing course in each year. Courses with the writing flag are not courses in writing, but courses that involve writing.
The second flag we propose is for quantitative reasoning. We think that this is extremely important in the modern world, and that this will not pose a difficult burden at all on the more technically-inclined students. It will impose a burden on the more humanistically-inclined students, but that is a burden they should bear.
The third flag is for global cultures. It hardly needs to be said that we need to graduate students who know a lot about what is going on around the world these days. Again, we think this requirement can be folded into additional, existing requirements, such as Area D.
The fourth flag, the diversity requirement, is something that people both within and outside the University have been calling for many, many years. The United States cultural map is rather complicated, and students need to know something about it. This requirement is not onerous; it can be folded into the legislative requirement for
history or government and indeed a substantial number of the courses already offered would bear that flag. This would not pose an additional burden on students or departments.
The fifth flag is for ethics and leadership. The Commission of 125 asked for something along these lines. Many of us strongly believe that the University needs to take ethics seriously, especially ethics related to the professions that students are going to enter. We think that it’s actually more valuable to include ethics at the pre-professional level where students are actually more open to instruction than at, say, the MBA level or graduate level. We think that many of the students seeking the ethics and leadership flag would capture that in a course taught in their major, especially if it’s a pre-professional major.
The sixth flag, independent inquiry, is something we hope that students would be able to satisfy within their major.
We recognize that the problem of dashing through the UT curriculum in four years and collecting eight flags along the way is not an easy one. Therefore, we introduced what we call strands. This is an idea we borrowed from the Bridging Disciplines Program, which we much admired, and which gets very high grades from students who are in it. The strands are going to be pre-planned ways of picking up the flags as you go through. Depending on your major and/or your interests, you will have various trails that are already blazed that take you past the flag points. Those are the strands.
How to make all this work? This is a very complex proposal. I really think there is no other way to enhance the core than to develop a flag system. But, it’s going to require a lot of work--a lot of staff work. Somebody is going to have to negotiate with the departments to make sure that courses that carry the flags are offered in sufficient numbers. Somebody is going to have to design the strands, both interdisciplinary strands and strands that work within majors. Somebody is going to have to watch all this and modify it if it doesn’t work.
We know that in the past curricular reform has gone rather the way of Solon’s law code. As Tom Palaima knows, Solon proposed a new law code and left for a long time on the theory that if he were gone they couldn’t change it, and it would be permanent. Later, the Athenians did regard it as unchangeable, as a kind of a sacred text. This is the opposite of what we want. We want to create a dynamic system. We know that we don’t know enough in committee to set up a system that will be foolproof. We know that this will need follow-up; it will require careful judgment and negotiation and modification as time goes on, and someone’s going to have to do all this. There will have to be somebody whose job it is to look after the care and maintenance and modification of this plan--someone with a substantial staff and a faculty advisory committee as well. There is no cheap way to curricular reform. It is going to require some kind of new entity. I’ll talk a bit later about why we chose the kind of new entity that we did choose.
Now, about signature courses, I’ll be a little briefer. We’ve talked a lot about this. The idea is a common interdisciplinary educational experience for all students. Everyone seems to agree it’s a wonderful idea. The questions are about whether we can do it, given the curricular restraints in certain majors and the constraints of resources that we also labor under. (Just a personal note, this is not part of the committee report, but I recently lectured on democracy at Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus. It’s one of the more progressive Muslin universities in the world. They have something like the signature course, and they are really strapped for funds. The idea of giving every student a common educational experience is one that is widely growing around the world. It’s not just in the US.)
We looked into ways that we thought that we could introduce signature courses without putting a huge strain on the system as we now have it. Therefore, we proposed a lecture course model for the signature course, with a maximum of 240 students in a lecture class. That number is getting a lot of discussion. We don’t think that the numbers should be large just because we believe in large courses. We’re trying to figure out a way that we could actually do this. Large classes with specially trained TAs can be very good. We have a number of faculty, and we know who they are, who can teach dazzling lecture courses. It’s those whom we would recruit for this. There’s no point in offering bad courses. We want them to be dazzling. We are a big University. We know how to do big. We do big very well. We can figure out a way to do signature course type offerings for all of our students. Should you doubt, I taught 240 students in a class in which everyone wrote a paper, and everyone gave a graded formal speech. It’s just a matter of training the TAs. It can be done.
The third area in which we made a recommendation was path finding. We’re disturbed to observe that 65% of students change their major. We know that figure represents a lot of different kinds of major changes, but we’re well aware that many students are getting into majors that are not right for them because of poor advice from their parents or their high school counselors. We have to do better. Many years ago, I was on a committee that recommended the establishment of a University Advising Center, which operated, I think, very well for a few years. It was perhaps not cost effective, and it was eliminated, by the way, without faculty discussion. It’s apparent that, although advising in the various colleges is often excellent for the purposes of the colleges, no one has picked up the mission of advising students on what college to major in. This is something that we can do, and we need to do it better. We’re wasting a lot of time and a lot of money, both faculty time and student time, on people who are washing out of majors that they shouldn’t have picked.
All the roads that we have examined seem to lead to a structural change. The flag system is going to require a lot of staffing. The path finding is going to require a new advising system. The signature course is going to require some administration. The Vick Report was only a partial success because there wasn’t anybody charged with following up. It was adopted to some extent by some programs and not by others. Because the core with which we were left was an administrative orphan there wasn’t anybody charged with looking after it as his or her primary job. So we felt almost unanimously that there has to be a new entity. We debated long hours as to what kind of new entity there should be. One possibility is that a new section could be created in the provost’s office. We’d have a new vice provost with a staff to do all the things that we are talking about. Another possibility is that we would have a new college with a dean and the same staff. They cost the same--it seems to me. The same number of people, namely the number of people it takes to do the job, is required either way. It’s a question of how you organize it. What swayed most of us in the direction of a college is that we thought faculty would be able to have more influence, and students as well, on a free standing college than in an office embedded in the tower. We also thought that the new entity should have independent funding with which it paid for faculty release time and had an influence on the way in which faculty are brought into the University. We also thought it was important that there be somebody who speaks for undergraduate education at the final level of promotion and tenure consideration. Just as there is someone who speaks for graduate education, there ought to be somebody who speaks for undergraduate education. The Dean of Graduate Studies serves on that committee; there ought to be a comparable figure who speaks for undergraduates.
For all these reasons, we thought there ought to be a University College to serve as a home where the different functions that we think need to be introduced into the University can be coordinated--curricular, advising, and some general educational policy at the central level. I should point out to those of you who may not have read the report very closely that the central advising that we proposed for the University College will not preempt the advising that is now done by the colleges. We know that many colleges have excellent advising systems, and we do not want to interfere with them. I am particularly impressed with the faculty advising that goes on in engineering. I think it sets a standard that my own college ought to try to emulate. We’re not going to dismantle any of the things that are working. What we are proposing is that something new be added. The rule that students not make the final selection to their major until after their first year is designed to make sure that students think about their choice of major and seek advice about it before they plunge in. It doesn’t imply that there will not be engineering freshmen, or business freshmen, or cello playing freshmen just as there are now. They will be called pre-admits and they will be treated as they are now except they will also have access to the University College.
When people decide to make a big change, it requires a lot of courage because you don’t know what it’s going to bring, such as when a couple decides to have a baby. I’ve just become a grandfather, so I know what this means. You don’t know what’s going to come. It’s a bold leap into the future. The kinds of changes we are proposing do constitute a very bold leap. No one can predict exactly how well it will work, which is why we want to make sure there is a flexible, dynamic, capable institutional unit that can oversee this and change it as necessary. We strongly believe that this is not a time for small measures. If we seriously try to accept the charge of the Commission of 125 and if we seriously try to listen to what our students are telling us, we need the courage to try something very new. Thank you very much.
Report by Professor David Hillis
Thank you very much. It would be very easy to make too much of the fact that I dissented from the majority report of the Task Force on Curricular Reform. In fact, I agree with the other members on the task force on the need for change, especially on the need for greater attention to undergraduate education in general and to the core curriculum in particular. I’m also in agreement with the other members of the task force on many of the details of the recommendations in the report. However, I do object to two of the major recommendations, which I see as expensive but not well justified, and which I see as potentially more harmful than helpful to the undergraduate curriculum. These are details that need to be worked out. I’m convinced that we can modify the details, yet still go forward with curricular reform.
In short, I think there are some better uses of our resources that will result in more substantial, more worthwhile, and more lasting change. We openly discussed these issues in the task force meetings, and I appreciate that the other members of the task force voted to attach my alternative suggestions as an appendix to the majority report, so the details are there for you to look at. Whether or not other faculty agree with the concerns that I have raised, I think that it’s crucially important that we have widespread faculty input and discussions about this major curricular reform effort. Undoubtedly, there are other alternatives and ideas that should be considered. I hope that my report helps to open the discussion more broadly to UT students, faculty, and administrators. Changes that have widespread support of the faculty are much more likely to be effective when implemented than those that do not.
My two major objections concern the proposed University College and the format of the proposed signature courses. I’ll address each of these points separately.
First, the proposed University College: I think it is part of the University’s culture that, when we think of major change, we automatically assume that means change in administrative structure. Some changes in administrative structure can be very stimulating, but administrative change can also have exactly the opposite effect. In particular, if a single college is placed in charge of the core curriculum, it’s natural that other colleges will no longer see the core as part of their responsibility. If we place responsibility of the core curriculum in a separate college, then most faculty will become less aware, less engaged, less concerned, and less able to influence what happens to the core. That’s exactly the opposite of what I think needs to happen.
Over time we’ve generated more and more administrative bureaucracy at UT, and I think we’ve already gone too far down that road. The Commission of 125 noted this as a problem and suggested that UT might already be divided into too many separate administrative silos. We face the significant challenge that UT is a very large University, and it’s easy for students to feel lost here. A lot of our discussions on the task force concerning University College related to that particular issue. University College was meant to be seen as a smaller place where students could find their place in the University as a whole. However, I believe that for many students it would have exactly the opposite effect. All incoming freshmen will be placed into University College, and this is not a good recipe for making UT seem like a smaller place, or for providing more individual attention for students. The reality is that there are already too many demands on the time and attention of faculty. It’s unrealistic to think that most faculty will devote the same kind of time and attention to University College that they now do to their own departments and colleges. Therefore, we’re likely to end up with an enormous and expensive college that can provide little personal attention, and that is seen as more of a hurdle than a home to incoming students. In addition, many faculty may grow to view the core curriculum as someone else’s responsibility.
The majority report states that University College is needed so that some entity is in charge of the core curriculum and its oversight. But, we already have entities that are in charge of the curriculum and its oversight...namely the provost’s office and the Faculty Council. If we need to provide more resources, or programs, or attention to the core, then it’s unclear why we can’t simply take advantage of those existing administrative structures. Paul pointed out something about the flag requirements needing a very large staff to oversee them. Flag requirements are not rocket science. I don’t see why we need a whole college just to have someone overseeing the administration of those flag requirements. I think that using the existing structures would actually be much more effective because all college deans report to the provost, whereas all college deans would not report to a dean of the University College. Moreover, the faculty council has representation from throughout the faculty. If we create a separate college, I think this will isolate the core curriculum from the
other colleges and from the faculty as a whole. Instead, the core curriculum should be an integrated part of the University and all of its academic programs.
Our students are very diverse: some students arrive highly directed and focused on an academic role. Others have yet to find their appropriate academic pathway. We need to recognize and embrace this diversity and realize that one solution does not fit all students. I agree that we need to develop more programs to help incoming students to explore the diverse options available at UT. In fact, I think we’ve made enormous strides in this area in recent years, and we should not lose track of that progress. I’m most familiar with the efforts of my own college to help students explore and learn about diverse options for majors inside and outside the college, such as the College of Natural Sciences Freshmen and Transitional Advising Center. I know that similar units exist or planned for other colleges as well. I think we should encourage and develop those kinds of efforts, which actually do make UT seem like a smaller and more friendly place. That doesn’t mean we can’t also develop similar efforts for students who are unsure of the most appropriate college or major. But I do feel that it would be a mistake to force all students into that same mold. I think to do so would aggravate, rather than to alleviate, the feeling that UT is a big place with few opportunities for personal attention. I’m convinced it would also slow the progress of many students toward graduation.
Therefore, I see the proposed University College as redundant bureaucracy at best. We could easily implement any of the proposed functions of University College without actually creating a new college. At worst, I think that University College could develop into a substantial new impediment to effective undergraduate education. We should not isolate the core curriculum from most faculty and from individual colleges. And, we should not create colleges that lack any kind of academic focus.
My second major objection to the majority report was with the proposed freshmen and sophomore signature courses. I do not think these courses will necessarily provide the signature experience that we want associated with UT. I don’t object to any of the specific courses that have been suggested. I think they are very good ideas for interdisciplinary courses. However, I think we can do better and provide a more cohesive, meaningful freshmen and sophomore signature experience. I do support the idea of signature courses, but I believe that we could do a much better job of developing the thematic signature courses that also address some of the weaknesses of our existing core curriculum.
The problem we faced as a task force was that we didn’t all agree on what exactly are the weaknesses of the existing core curriculum. So we ended up leaving it virtually untouched. The freshmen signature course was simply added to the existing core. Moreover, it was designed to be another large freshmen course with individual contact limited largely to the TA-led discussion sections, where writing and speaking instruction will take place. I feel that would simply be adding a core course that does not focus on any particular need but rather is hoped to address all the problems of our other existing core courses. It’s unclear, however, how these courses will solve any of the existing problems. The experiences of students would vary widely depending on which of the particular signature courses they took. We would not end up addressing the problems of the existing largely disconnected core curriculum.
I’m not opposed to change at all. I feel that we have an opportunity to address the weaknesses in our current curriculum and to lead the state in developing a new and better core curriculum. Students need to learn that University life and learning are fundamentally different than what they likely experienced in high school. Imagine, for instance, a signature course that tied together our requirements in government, history, ethics, and leadership: a course that would better prepare for students to be successful citizens. Or, a course that focused on inquiry-based learning in sciences, so that students would learn how to ask questions about the world rather than continue to memorize and regurgitate facts. Or, a capstone research course that integrated and applied the various elements from throughout each student’s experience at the University. I believe that any of these would represent a significant improvement over the existing proposal. Such courses can’t be offered in isolation, however, and simply added on top of the existing requirements. They have to be part of a reform to integrate our core curriculum into a cohesive whole. I don’t believe that the proposed signature courses meet those objectives.
In summary, I believe that the majority recommendations of the task force take the easy way out. The recommendation of a University College and the new signature courses would require large expenditures in resources but would result in little actual change. Where change would occur, it would not necessarily be an improvement, such as the isolation of all freshmen into a massive, separate college. I believe we can do better,
and I see many better uses of any new resources we can generate. Despite these comments, I hope that all faculty will embrace whatever solutions we eventually decide to pursue and work together to make those reforms a success. If we do create University College and the proposed signature courses, then I hope my concerns can be addresses as those ideas are developed so that these new structures will not become obstacles for students and faculty alike. Providing a better and more meaningful experience is a goal that we all share, even if we differ in the details of the recommendations for how we should achieve that goal. I present my recommendations in that spirit. Thank you very much.