I want to share with you some of the progress we’ve made to enrich the undergraduate experience at the University. The first strategic initiative of the Report of the Commission of 125 was to “develop a new undergraduate core curriculum to better prepare students for lives of accomplishment.”
- Half of our freshmen now take a First-Year Signature Course. These rigorous courses, taught by senior faculty, stress writing, speaking, and discourse. Most are small seminars. This is a chance for freshmen to confront big ideas and important issues in their first year. Within the next two years, all freshmen will be enrolled in these courses. I believe in this concept, and I teach a freshman seminar myself.
- We are developing a curriculum in which undergraduates will acquire important skills and experiences in writing, quantitative reasoning, global cultures, multicultural perspectives, ethics and leadership, and independent inquiry. By next fall 650 courses will meet the requirements for satisfying at least one of these skills, or “flags,” as we call them. This effort emphasizes a competency and skills-based approach rather than a subject-matter approach.
- Last year we established the School of Undergraduate Studies, with Paul Woodruff serving as dean. Woodruff is an eminent philosophy professor, author, and former Director of Plan II. Among other things, the School will provide a home for freshmen and sophomores who want to explore various fields before choosing a major, which they must do by the second semester of their sophomore year.
- We converted magnificent space in the Life Sciences Library of the Main Building into six new seminar rooms for the Signature Courses. Freshmen can now have a small class experience in technologically advanced rooms in our most prominent building.
This progress is the result of the vision of the Commission of 125, the active collaboration of our faculty and students, and the support of our alumni and friends. Indeed, several generous gifts have been critical to these efforts. They are an extraordinary example of how strategic gifts can have a profound impact on the life of the University.
On a different matter, you may be interested to know that last week the Texas Senate passed legislation to limit automatic admissions under the Top 10% Law. The House is expected to take up the issue in the days ahead.
Thank you for all you do for your University.
William Powers Jr.
The University of Texas at Austin