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To: Office of the General Faculty
Via email: fc@utc.cc.utexas.edu

From: J. L. Erskine, Professor of Physics

Date: December 6, 2006

Re: Legislation D5155-5163

I am submitting this letter to protest the General Faculty legislation D5155-5163 introduced by the Educational Policy Committee.

The report of the Task Force on Curricular Reform was a poorly-conceived document, and the proposed new legislation to change degree requirements for all undergraduate students at UT-Austin has not effectively addressed many of the problems in that document. I provided comments on the Task Force document in my March 3, 2006, letter to the Faculty Council Executive Committee (posted on the Faculty Council web site). Many of my comments apply to the proposed faculty legislation.

In my view, the primary problem with both the Task Force document and the proposed legislation is that the Curricular Reform effort has been driven by the premise that all degree plans at UT-Austin require revision, and that a one-plan-fits-all solution can be imposed by a top-down approach that solves the problems.

The Commission of 125 (quoting language in the Amended Motion document) “believes that while the current system offers students myriad courses of study, it fails to equip undergraduates with a core body of knowledge essential to a well-balanced education. For too many degree plans, the current curriculum resembles little more that a vast a la carte menu.”

While the above statement may apply to some degree programs at UT-Austin, I do not agree that it applies to our Physics degree program, and probably it does not apply to any of the degree programs in Natural Sciences or Engineering. With additional resources, our department could, indeed, improve the educational experience of our physics majors, but I doubt that anyone in our department would envision improvements along the lines outlined in the legislation. If the legislation is approved and implemented, it will not improve our physics undergraduate degree program, and would most likely cause harm.

Even if I accepted the assessment of the Commission (too many degree plans that resemble a vast a la carte menu), the new legislation appears to ad (potentially 57 or more) a la carte items plus a formal requirement forcing our undergraduate students to substitute these courses for electives or major core courses.

The description of the “Signature Courses” is weak. Rigor and constraints are sacrificed for flexibility and faculty preferences. Department judgment is ceded to an undergraduate Signature Course czar. The results will be “soft” courses with less value than the existing core and elective courses. Many of the suggested Signature Course titles could be suitable for a colloquium (or a short series), but do not seem to me appropriate for a core college course in most degree programs. A large number of advisors would be required to assist students in mapping out a suitable set of courses that meet all of the new requirements. In most cases, the new undergraduate curriculum would likely increase rather than decrease the period required to complete an undergraduate degree program. This legislation is a blueprint for creating an awkward, expensive, and ineffective new program. I cannot support it.

JLE/ce

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