The University of Texas at Austin- What Starts Here Changes the World
Services Navigation

UT Direct


Subject: Protest of change in degree requirements
Date: December 5, 2006 10:26:29 AM CST

Subject: Protest of the Motion to Change the Degree Requirements for All
Undergraduate Students at UT Austin

Date: November 5, 2006

Protester: Harry Swinney, Professor, Department of Physics

I strongly protest the plan for Signature Courses because I think the
plan is unworkable and will be a big flop. How will the university's
top teachers be recruited? How will TAs be trained in
interdisciplinary studies (but without textbooks to guide them) to
teach annually 15000 students (including first and second year
students)? The result will be thousands of unhappy students. The word
will get out quickly to prospective students, and many top students
will choose to go to elsewhere rather than come to UT to be required
to suffer through the so-called signature courses.

While I think that the University should be supportive of proposals by
faculty to create interdisciplinary courses, it is a big mistake for
the administration to decree top-down that there must be a huge number
of such courses and that all students should be forced to take them.
My own experience has been that the development of an
interdisciplinary course for only twenty bright, highly motivated Plan
II students takes much time and effort. I think it is absurd to think
it is possible to develop interdisciplinary courses into a signature
experience for all incoming students, regardless of their interest
and preparation.

If the plan for Signature Courses passes, before launching this
experiment on an entire incoming class, please try the idea for three
years with a few courses for a small number of randomly selected
students and randomly selected recognized top teachers. As the
instructions with cleaning fluids say, try on a small piece of hidden
fabric first. Before launching the large scale program, the results
from the small scale experiment should be thoroughly evaluated and the
plan should be re-considered by Faculty Council.

In summary, while I commend the Educational Policy Committee for
taking a bold step with the goal of improving the educational experiences
of our undergraduates, I think that the proposed Signature Courses will be
a disaster for The University.

Harry L. Swinney, Sid Richardson Foundation Regents Chair
Physics Department and Center for Nonlinear Dynamics
University of Texas at Austin (1 University Station C1600, Austin 78712-0264)
Phone 512-471-4619; messages 512-471-4839; fax 512-471-1558
email: Home page:


  Updated 2013 October 18
  Copyright | Privacy | Accessibility
  Comments to or
  Contact Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary,
  General Faculty and Faculty Council