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September 04, 1986 - Image 34

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The Michigan Daily, 1986-09-04

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Page 14A - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 4, 1986
Report calls






Students in the University's College
of =Literature, Science, and the Arts
must be trained to think more
critically, said a report examining
Ow quality of LSA's undergraduate
The observation was just one of
several included in a 21-page report
finished by the Blue Ribbon Corn-
ission thissummer. The com-
rission-made up of six faculty
members, one student, and one ad-
ministrator-was formed three years
ago in response to a predicted
national shortage of students going on
to college over the next decade.
,.For example, the number of 18-year
olds in Michigan will be 35 percent
smaller than it was in 1979. Such a
drop would increase competition
among universities for students.
Unless the college improves the'
education it offers, it will not be able
to compete, feared University of-
SKILL courses
"Relatively little attention is given
to the reaching of critical thinking,"
the report said, "Courses throughout
the four years do not build on previous;
courses to promote the progressive
development of high cognative
faculties. Our curriculum lacks struc-
ture and a sense of purpose."
The central recommendation of the
report is the creation of SKILL
(Skill and Knowledge in Lifetime

Learning) courses. The
would cover traditional subj
language, history, and ch
with an emphasis of resear
formulating and contrasting
and theories.
One course, for example
compare opposing interprets
historical events. The studer
be asked to formulate th

ects like
rch, and
, would
ations of
nt would
eir own

Commission member Herb Eagle, a
professor of slavic languages and
literature, suggested one or two cour-
ses be offered on a trial basis.
LSA Dean Peter Steiner has said he
plans to present the SKILL plan to the
college's executive faculty committee
early in the fall. The committee could
approve the proposal, or ask other
faculty for input. If it is immediately
approved, the first trial course could

be in place by Fall Term 1987.
The University's Vice President for
Academic Affairs James Duderstadt
discussed the proposal with com-
mission members this summer.
"There is a very real possibility
these courses should and would be of-
fered," he said.
While the trial courses would be
voluntary, the report said "at some
point, the college might consider

making the SKILL curriculums a
One possible obstacle to success for
the SKILL program is departmental
resistance. The SKILL program
would be run from the deans office,
outside of such departments as
political science. Eagle estimates
each planet course would hold ap-
proximately 20 students, and with 20

such courses a significant number of
students would be drawn away from
existing departments.
But Eagle thinks the problem can
be overcome. Professors and
teaching assistants in existing depar-
tments could be used for the SKILL
courses. "You hope that in the long
run things will balance out pretty
well," Eagle said.

would emphasize critical thinking -

SKILL courses would be broken
down into "planet" courses, and
"satellite" courses. Planet courses
would be more general and introduc-
tory, combining lecture sessions
taught by professors and small
discussion sessions led by teaching;
assistants. Planet courses would be
required in each of a students two
freshmen terms, and one during
sophomore year.
One satellite course would be
required during the other sophomore
term, and would expand on one of th
planet courses. The class, taught by a
professor, would be small and would
stress research.
Eventually, the SKILL system
would have 20 planet courses and 60
satellite courses. Exactly which cour-
ses will be adapted or created has not
been decided yet, but the commission
recommended using the University's
"best" professors.
The report, however, was vague on
how the plan should be implemented,
saying only that it should be gradual.

Student popu
While much of the Blue Ribbon Commission's
report dealt with changes in the curriculum, the
recommendations about LSA's admissions and
financial aid policies are at the heart of the
problem that spurred the review.
In 1983, the year the commission was
established, LSA received 900 fewer applications
than the year before. The college began
to face up to the coming decline in student s. The
situation looked almost desperate. The national
dip on the college aid group was predicted to be
most severe in the University prime recruiting
areas, including the northeast.
Then, as the commission worked, three years of
sharp increases in applications followed,
culminating in a record number of applications
this fall. However, commission members say the
University's recent good fortune does not
diminish the importance of their recommen-
dations. Hugh Montgomery, a mathematics
professor, said "The problems are very real. The
closer you look, the more certain you are that
there is definitely a problem."

lation drops sp
All of the commission's recommendations were
intended to meet that problem, upgrade the
University's undergraduate program, and make
the University more competitive. But one section
was devoted specifically to admissions and finan-
cial aid policies.
Perhaps the most notable of the admissions
policies concerned the percentage of out-of-state
students. One obvious solution to a sharp decline
in the recruiting-age population is to recruit more
extensively in other areas of the country.
However, the University of Michigan, is a state
university and must deal with political pressure to
maintain a high fraction of in-state students.
Traditionally, that fraction has been around 2/3.
Lately it has fallen.
The commission recommended that it be
allowed to continue to fall, "if this proves
necessary to maintain current academic stan-
dards for admission." The report gives two
reasons: first, lower admissions standards for in-
state students could damage other state univer-
sities; second, a drop in the quality of LSA studen-

arks changes
ts "is potentially more dangerous for the college '
than a relatively short-term increase in out-of-:-
state admissions."
Yet the commission did not suggest that the'
University give up on increasing its in-state ap-
plications. Instead, it pointed out that two-thirds
of the University's in-state students come from
five counties in South-Eastern Michigan, leaving
room is recruit from other parts of the state. Thee
report suggests "special scholarships to en-'
courage students from the more distant parts of e
the state to come here.
The commission also suggested that faculty
become more actively involved in recruiting. "We'
feel that prospective students will be favorably,
impressed if they can meet with faculty when
visiting our campus.
The commission also recommended giving"
more financial aid to recruit minorities, accor-'
ding to "need plus merit." The committee would'
set aside a certain amount for need, and then-add
aid according to academic merit. "This would
help the University continue to attract highly-
talented students," Eagle said.


Distribution requirements need limiting

The lack of a systematic review of
courses hurts the quality of classes in
the College of Literatue, Science, and
0IArts, the Blue Ribbon Commission
said in its report.
In addition, the report said that
LSA's distribution requirements are
failing to ensure students a broad,
liberal arts education.
Curriculum quality ,
On the quality of classes, LSA's
Curriculum Committee now decides,
A A whether new courses should be star-
ted, but there is no 'review of
THEM LAST existing courses. The committee
proposes getting up a review system
and increasing faculty incentives for
Currently, research is stressed over
teaching in determining faculty pay
increases and promotions. If reviews
of a professor's courses are placed on
their records and are considered

highly when, for example, deciding
whether to grant tenure, the commit-
tee says faculty will work harder to
ensure quality courses.
Biology Prof. Lewis Kleinsmith
says the quality problem of some of
LSA's courses is shown by the fact
that average test scores in some courses.
are in the 30s. "This means a majority
of students are not meeting the goals
of a course. One way or another, the
course is a failure,"he said.

Currently, LSA's distribution
system labels courses as natural
science, social science, humanities, or
excluded. Most - distribution
requirements call for three courses
from each of the first three
categories. This is intended to give
students a broad education.
However, the reports says that
because "almost every un-
dergraduate course...can be used to

satisfy (requirements)," students
can take several courses in one area
without having to branch out. 0
While the commission didn't single
out courses or departments that
needed cuts, it did call foc the number
of courses that count towards
distribution to be "sharply" reduced.
Six departments have already
reduced the number of courses that
offer distribution credits, and more
are expected to be cut.



"A student can go through this
stitution and not know the faculty v
enough to get three personal letters
recommendation," complai
Biology Prof. Lewis Kleinsmith,
member of the Blue Ribbon C(
This lack of contact between stud
ts and faculty was another problf
cited by the commission in its rev:
of the College of Literature, Scier
The committee's report cites t-
University studies, which say stud
ts feel their relations with the faci
are impersonal and would like great
"A majority of students
Michigan...have not learned...wha
is to participate in an academic co
munity. If they are to benefit' fr
their time here, they need to
taught, albeit informally, what
means," the commission's reps
To solye the problem, the ci
mission recommends that der
tments be held accountable fori
proving relations with theiri
dergraduates and that the Dean of1
LSA Curriculum Committee shc
review their progress.
Probably the most significant
the solutions suggested is to get




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students more involved with faculty in
The report suggests that LSA offer
research money to students, and that
faculty compile a list of student
research projects they'd be willing to
The commission did not specify how
many students could be involved in
the program, but member Hugh Mon-
tgomery, a mathematics professor,
thought eventually at least 10 percent
of the senior class could participate.
" "Departments should have a
systematic and organized way of
communicating with their un-
dergraduates, and have mechanisms
for hearing and dealing with general
problems." The commission recom-
mends giving student groups ad-
ministrative and financial support.
" "Departments should be aware of
students' vocational interests and
take responsibility for organizing in-
" "Departments should make use of
undergraduates as test graders and
class facilitators. The report calls un-
dergraduates "among the least ex-
pensive and least utilized resources in
the college "
" "Departments should increase in-
formal contacts with students, both to
improve the intellectual climate with
undergraduates and to make them


further aware of the usefulness of
liberal education in today's world."
The report gives "brown bag" lun-
ches, discussing academic issues, ai
an example.
The proposals will probably be
discussed by the LSA Dean and the
faculty's Executive Committee this

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Report calls
counse ling
Undergraduates are currently nok
required to see a counselor regularly;
at least until they declare their field of
concentration. A significant number
of students take advantage of LSA'i
leniency and forego the visit to their
When students do go to see coun
selors, they may not see the same
> counselors as before, and their coun-
i selors may not be from their area of
The LSA Blue Ribbon Commission
recognized all of the above as
problems and said in its April report
'currently the process of academic
counseling is held in very low esteem
throughout the college. Students and
faculty view it as a bureaucratic
The report says that counseling
should "teach theystudent what to ex;
pect from the college, how to get it
and how to evaluate his or her ex-
periences of it." It also says coun
seling can be used to get students and
faculty to know one another.
The report gives four recommen-
dations for remedying the situation:
" The quantity of counseling for on-
dergraduates should be increased and
more faculty members should be in
" "Students should be required tp
see a faculty counselor on a regular
basis every term during the freshman
and sophomore years. Each student
should be assigned to a faculty coun-
selor who will work with him or her
during those years."
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