MINUTES OF THE REGULAR FACULTY COUNCIL MEETING OF
MAY 6, 2013


VIII. NEW BUSINESS.

B. Proposed Changes to the Bachelor of Arts Degree Program in the College of Natural Sciences Section in the Undergraduate Catalog, 2014-2016 (D 10295-10306).

Professor Sasha Kopp (physics, associate dean for curriculum and programs in the College of Natural Sciences) explained that the main purpose of the proposal was to give students in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) opportunities for cross-disciplinary educational programs that would support their career interests. He stressed that the proposal was very much student-driven but strongly supported by the faculty within the College of Natural Sciences. He explained that most CNS undergraduates pursue the Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees offered by their departments, which focus on rigorous education and training that prepares them for graduate studies or scientific careers.

Alternatively, CNS offers a shared Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree with the College of Liberal Arts, but Dean Kopp indicated this option had not encompassed the full aspirations of students with interests outside CNS. He explained that students were seeking to pursue minors that combine their science education with interests outside the Colleges of Natural Sciences or Liberal Arts, e.g., in business, communications, and fine arts. In addition, he indicated that CNS faculty members were not totally satisfied with how the current degree requirements met the needs of majors in all departments within the college. To illustrate the inflexibility of the current degree requirements in meeting student career interests, Dean Kopp described in detail how two very capable CNS students became frustrated by not being able to pursue their cross-disciplinary passions along with their scientific aspirations without taking extra time to graduate.

Dean Kopp explained that the proposed degree contains 120 hours comprised of (1) the thirty-hour University core without the science and math classes; (2) a maximum of forty-eight hours for the math and science component of the degree; and (3) the remaining forty-two hours of courses across humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and the languages. This third component could include a minor, an already existing certificate program, or eighteen hours in a field of study outside CNS, and outside the College of Engineering, and outside the Jackson School of Geosciences. Currently, if students want to pursue interests outside of CNS, they have to switch majors, which means the students might need to stay in college longer.

Dean Kopp said about 60 percent of CNS students finish a degree within the college; about 15 percent do not complete a degree at all, largely because they transfer to the pharmacy school; and about 25 percent do not finish a degree in CNS, because they either leave the University or finish a degree in another UT Austin college or school. He said the new degree proposal, if approved, could end up being significant for students in the college, since it is estimated that nearly one third of the enrollees might choose this career path in the future.

The associate dean reported there was a great deal of interest in this student-initiated idea as indicated by the following events: several focus groups conducted by the college to ascertain how the degree plan might fit into CNS undergraduates’ career aspirations; two town hall meetings attended by hundreds of CNS students where the proposal received strong support; and 1,074 signatures of CNS students on a petition supporting the new degree proposal circulated among college students during the past week. Dean Kopp also mentioned that professional programs increasingly require new competencies beyond the sciences, such as expertise in writing, scientific illustration, science communication, or business knowledge. He added there were new requirements by medical schools for applicants to have competencies beyond the traditional scientific ones, including an understanding of social sciences and family dynamics. He said CNS faculty had been talking a good deal about how they were able “to prepare students with an exceptional amount of knowledge in the sciences, but there’s this thing in sciences called the is-ought problem.” He added that scientists tend to teach about what is, but do not necessarily teach about what ought to be done about it. That, he explained, is an area where some scientists see they need help from faculty from other fields of study. As an example, Dean Kopp said, “Just because cloning of new species is possible, it may or may not be a good idea.” He added, “the excellent opportunities across this University in the humanities, in the social sciences, the languages, all of these are a part of what can become a very important and broad education for our students.”

Dean Kopp said there had been good discussion in CNS about this new degree proposal, but he regretted that there had not been much time spent thus far in discussions about it among members of the broader University community. As a result of concerns raised about the proposal, he had begun to meet with some of the individual faculty members from liberal arts who had objected to the proposed degree plan. He felt there had been good conversations with his counterparts in business, fine arts, communications, and some individuals in liberal arts about ways in which students could benefit from a broader background than what is provided in the traditional BS degrees. After saying it was his sincere hope that the new degree plan would serve students by broadening their educational opportunities and making them well-rounded scientists capable of productively contributing to society, Dean Kopp opened the floor to questions.

After acknowledging the benefits of the new BSA degree, Dr. Leslie Vaaler (mathematics) asked Dean Kopp to elaborate on what was to be gained by the elimination of the current BA degree, which, she noted, was utilized by students in mathematics and biology. She indicated there was concern in her department about this aspect of the legislation, and the advisors had indicated they could advise students on both the BSA and BA degree options. Dean Kopp responded there were at best only 10 percent of the students in CNS pursuing the BA degree, but the percentages in mathematics and biology were a little higher than the overall average. He said it had been proposed that the BA be retained and the BSA added as a third option for students, and he “would be glad to welcome that as a possibility.” Since Dean Kopp readily agreed to Dr. Vaaler’s friendly amendment to separate the two issues in the proposed legislation, thereby creating a BSA degree in CNS and omitting item 2.2 in the proposal that would have deleted the BA degree, the Council unanimously passed the amendment by voice vote.

Professor Alan Friedman (English) asked the Council for speaking privileges for Professors Jill Robbins, Kristen Brustad, and Mark Bernstein. The request was approved by voice vote of the Council with one abstention. Professor Jill Robbins (chair, Spanish and Portuguese) said Dean Kopp had talked with her on Friday about the proposed degree, but she felt there were concerns about how this new degree might affect the College of Liberal Arts as well as her department. She contended there were increased interdisciplinary degrees now available that were reliant on courses taught in liberal arts that had actually reduced the number of majors within the college’s departments. She said the issue was “not so much that students choose one college over the other but rather the control over majors in our own units.” She was also concerned that the BSA required only one year of foreign language, which would potentially reduce overall enrollment in courses offered by language departments, such as the one she chaired. Dean Kopp responded that he expected the increase in BSA over current BA majors would result in a much larger number of students pursuing coursework outside CNS. He mentioned he had already agreed in their previous conversation to add the word “minimally” to the one-year competency requirement in a foreign language and said he anticipated an increased overall number of students to enroll in language courses. Dean Kopp responded to Chair Robbins’ concern that incoming students “might take this program over a BA in the College of Liberal Arts” by assuring her that the intent of CNS was to better serve majors already enrolled in its departments rather than to increase the number of overall majors enrolled in CNS.

Professor Mark Bernstein (communications science and disorders, associate dean, College of Communication) said there had been considerable discussion with Dean Kopp about the proposed BSA, and the administration in his college was excited about this new opportunity for undergraduates and did not see this as competing with other colleges for students. He said his college viewed “this as a way of reinvigorating our own efforts to provide an interdisciplinary certificate within the college, offering students an opportunity to focus in such areas as science communication, science journalism, or science and the media in a way that’s tremendously exciting.”

Professor Kristen Brustad (chair, Middle Eastern studies) echoed Dr. Robbins’ earlier comments and was especially concerned about the fact that the best and brightest students might migrate to CNS to pursue the proposed new degree. She perceived that “a lot of faculty in liberal arts feel particularly under siege with events of the last couple of years” by being “marginalized, especially in the public discourse.” She further expressed that “it’s difficult enough to convince parents and the like that a liberal arts degree actually means anything in the market.” She said she was hopeful there would be a chance to raise the profile of liberal arts within the viewpoint of the overall public. Professor Kopp responded with enthusiastic support for Bachelor of Arts degrees, which he himself had earned as an undergraduate, as a way to obtain a broad education and to learn effective writing skills. He emphasized again that his approach throughout the discussions was to emphasize “the value of the liberal arts and all arts across the campus.” He reiterated that the effort was not undertaken to “steal” majors away from other colleges and schools but rather to better educate the existing students in the CNS. He again noted that CNS students receive excellent training in the sciences, but they also need to receive breadth in their undergraduate education and be able to well integrate into their civic and other responsibilities. He added that he shared the concern about liberal arts being “under assault” with different tuition rates being proposed or actually applied to different courses by departmental affiliation.

Chair Elect Hart asked for permission to allow Professor Kristen Harris (neurobiology) to speak, which was granted by unanimous vote of the Council. Professor Harris expressed her support for the new program, reiterating the general support it had received throughout CNS. She admitted that she had initially been reluctant about the BSA proposal but had come to appreciate the opportunity it offered CNS students, especially to become better writers and broader thinkers.

After expressing her full support for interdisciplinary studies, Dr. Blinda McClelland (biology) asked Dean Kopp how this proposed degree differed from the Texas Interdisciplinary Program that was created in 2002. Dr. Kopp explained that Dr. McClelland was referring to a certificate program, called the University Fellows, comparable to the Bridging Disciplines Programs outside CNS. He said the certificate, just like a minor, could be inserted into the BSA degree shell, thus complementing it.

Professor Gordon Novak (computer science) reassured his liberal arts colleagues that the amount of math and science coursework required for the BSA would keep liberal arts students from changing their majors.

Professor Alberto Martinez (history) spoke emphatically in favor of the proposal as a great opportunity for students to pursue combined interests. He noted that he usually had very few or no science majors in his History of Science topics class, because the BS curriculum is too stringent to allow students to take outside classes. He congratulated CNS for encouraging students with this new degree to take outside courses, a refreshing reversal of the usual turf protection in academic units. When he opined that the BSA should not replace the BA in CNS but be created as an additional option, Dean Kopp agreed. Professor Martinez asked if the proposed degree had grown largely from dissatisfaction with the BS or the BA? Dean Kopp noted that students who were surveyed said they wanted their college major to be less prescriptive and provide greater opportunity for exploration than their high school education had been. He also reported that the number one disappointment expressed by students pursuing CNS degrees was the prescriptive quality of their degree programs. Given that 90 percent of CNS students are pursuing BS degrees, Dean Kopp said this was an important issue that the college was seeking to address with the new degree opportunity.

Though he supported the new degree proposal, Professor Michael Domjan (psychology) expressed concern regarding the name of the new degree. He thought that “Bachelor of Science and Arts” might mislead people, especially potential employers, to believe that these majors have expertise in both science and arts, when actually, they have less of the science subject content than the traditional BS provides and less of the liberal arts subject content that the traditional BA provides. He said the new BSA was really more of a general degree. Given that the University already offers BA Plan I and BA Plan II, he suggested that perhaps this new proposed degree should be renamed BA Plan III.

Professor Janet Davis (American studies) asked how this new degree would be treated for a student pursuing a double major in liberal arts as well as the new BSA. Dean Kopp responded that the students would be considered dual degree seekers, pursuing a BA in the College of Liberal Arts and a BSA in the College of Natural Sciences.

Professor Jon Olson (petroleum engineering) expressed concern about the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s recent activities regarding the elimination of programs based on the number of majors rather than the number of students taking coursework within a department. He asked how the Department of Spanish and Portuguese might be affected if a student took classes there but pursued a degree in CNS. Dean Kopp reiterated Dr. Novak’s earlier comment that a student with a major in science who pursues a minor or a certificate in liberal arts would likely never have been a liberal arts major, given the main interests of those students and the rigor of the science curriculum.

After saying he firmly supported the BSA proposal and thanking the Natural Sciences Council for its hard work and initiative in supporting the proposal, Mr. Michael Morton (president, Senate of College Councils) called the question. Because there had been three protests, Chair Hilley said she needed a motion and a second for the amended BSA proposal. Someone responded, “So moved, ” and another added, “Second.” Chair Hilley called for the vote, and the Faculty Council voted in favor of the BSA proposal, as amended, by voice vote, with seven abstentions that were counted by a show of hands.

Chair Hilley announced that the order of the agenda was altered and item F. Resolution Regarding UTS 180: "Conflicts of Interest, Conflicts of Commitment, and Outside Activities" Policy (D 10326-10327) would be presented next.

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