The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - Fall 2004 - 9C
Frustrated students protest
Art and Design curriculum
Engineering Dean Steven Director and Engineering Class of 2004 President Evita Nedelkoska cut the birthday cake on September 9, 2003.
School celebrates 150th anniversary
September 10, 2003
By Aymar Jean
Daily Staff Writer
With 150 years of innovation under its
belt, the College of Engineering was toast-
ed by students and faculty yesterday at its
The milestone comes at a crossroads in
the program's history, as the faculty and
administration plan to improve upon the
school's academic environment.
Among the school's strengths, many stu-
dents mentioned its resources, such as the
Media Union, and a large number of clubs
"The College of Engineering has a lot of
opportunities," Engineering Council Presi-
dent Chitra Laxmanan said. "We have over
70 societies and organizations for students
to join, so besides getting a great educa-
tion, we take on more."
Engineering senior Jia Lu, Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers co-
chair, echoed this statement.
"Some of the opportunities here are
unrivaled," Lu said. "A lot of companies
come here to use our extensive resources,
because we use multi-million dollar equip-
But when asked about the faculty, stu-
dents were more divided. Though many
agreed that the professors are among the
best in the world, many also noted the lack
of faculty/student interaction. Often the
professors' focus is on graduate students,
"The professors can be really focused on
providing research data, writing papers,
publishing and less focused on teaching
students," mechanical engineering senior
Vernon Newhouse said. "A lot of them are
more focused on the Ph.D. students, who
are doing research and do not need to learn
the basic information."
Prof. Dennis Assanis, chairman of the
Mechanical Engineering Department, said
in response, "This does happen quite a bit.
If you look at individual professors, there
might be some who prefer to do research.
One might say that's where their heart lies.
They might not necessarily have the gift to
be the best teachers."
At the time of its sesquicentennial, stu-
dents and staff seem proud of the college's
reputation for academic excellence, close
ties with the industry, its dedicated faculty
and other public services. But professors
see the need for improvement.
"We are at the forefront of public serv-
ice, transferring the technology we have to
the industry and doing good things for the
country," Assanis said. "We need to contin-
ue to strive for excellence in the face of
very tough competition and budget cuts."
Even amid the event's fanfare, behind
the scenes the college is busy making
"The college is engaged in a strategic
planning exercise and is going into an
implementation phase. We are going to
improve communication between schools,
improve the faculty environment and focus
on undergraduate education," said Dean
Stephen Director. "Seven years ago, we
implemented a new undergraduate initia-
tive, and we need to step back and see how
Since the University offered its first
engineering course in civic engineering in
1854, the college has made significant
advances in science and responded well to
the growing demands of industry. "Our
size and scope allows us to offer a large
variety of outstanding programs," Director
said. "We are here to perform important,
relevant research. We have laid out a five-
year plan and continue to strive for excel-
At the event on the North Campus Diag,
student groups sought to recruit new mem-
bers, continuing the tradition of student
involvement at the college.
Director and an alum of the school cut a
large celebratory birthday cake, after two
engineering seniors led the crowd in a
verse of "Happy Birthday, College of
As to the future of the engineering pro-
gram, Director promised to focus on com-
puter science and information technology,
biomedical engineering and nanotechnology.
March 2, 2004
By Donn M. Fresard
Daily Staff Writer
The new School of Art and Design curriculum
had what might be called a rocky beginning, with
some disgruntled students leaving the art school
in protest during the program's first year. Now in
their second year under the new curriculum, art
students are still largely frustrated with its broad
and demanding requirements. But rather than
transfer, some students have taken a more hopeful
approach, forming a new student government.
Lydia Gregg, president of the Art and Design
Student Government, said she and other art stu-
dents formed the organization last year intending
to work with the administration to discuss and
change aspects of the new program.
"It's a very complex system, and we disagree
with parts of it and agree with other parts," said
Gregg, an Art and Design senior. "I have faith in
(Art and Design Dean Bryan Rogers's) ability to
change things, but, at this point, it's a work in
The art school's curriculum was redesigned in
2002 to require students to become proficient in a
wide range of artistic techniques and media
before choosing an area of concentration. But
many Art and Design students feel that the new
requirements limit their choices, leaving them
without enough time to develop important skills.
"It's based on this sort of noble idea of stretch-
ing kids to get them to try all the forms of art that
they wouldn't try otherwise," said Art and Design
freshman Glenn Getty. "But I think a lot of us feel
that it takes all the choice away from students."
The new program requires first- and second-
year students to complete a series of courses in a
wide range of materials and techniques before
choosing areas of concentration in their third and
"The new curriculum is good in several ways,
said Art and Design Associate Dean Mary
Schmidt. "It requires all students to become con-
versant on a basic level with the tools and tech-
niques in every studio we have."
But Getty complained that the new require-
ments, which are fulfilled through a series of
seven-week courses, only scratch the surface of
the media they introduce to students. "Seven
weeks of any one thing is just too fast to really
learn anything in that area," Getty said.
Responding to reports that some students had
dropped out of the program due to the new
requirements, Schmidt noted that all major cur-
riculum changes meet with some initial resistance.
"We did have high attrition in the first year, but
this freshman class is an extraordinary group of
students," Schmidt said.
She added that the number of students leaving
the program appears to have dropped significantly
this year, but said the administration would not
release specific numbers.
Gregg said one objection students have
expressed is in regard to the curriculum's focus on
Art and Design junior Jeremiah Brown talks about
his work in his Illustration class, Art and Design 419.
conceptual development. "There's a very heavy
emphasis on concept rather than technique, and
so a lot of people are learning to run before they
can walk," Gregg said.
She said the student government is addressing
this issue by asking the art school to allow for
more flexibility in class scheduling. The organiza-
tion also recently set up an online message board,
hoping to gather new ideas from many students.
Other art students also said they were con-
cerned that increased focus on concept takes
away from time that could be spent developing
"We could be helped so much more by improv-
ing our art skills rather than by spending this
much time on conceptual courses," said Art and
Design freshman Michelle Bien.
But Schmidt said an emphasis on concept is
vital to artistic development.
"You can't be an artist in the world without
having ideas," Schmidt said. "Being required to
have ideas about your art-making is not a bad
thing. It's a new thing for freshmen."
She added that the new curriculum had not lost
sight of the importance of artistic technique, but
rather sought a balance between skill and concept.
"If you've got great ideas and no artistic skills,
just as if you've got great skill but no ideas, then
you're not an artist," she said.
Schmidt also defended the art program's plans
to supplant traditional photography with digital.
"There was a lot of discussion about whether
we should stick with chemical photography or do
digital photography," Schmidt said. "Everyone in
the faculty recommended that we transition to
digital photography, because that's what the world
is out there."
Getty, however, said he had intended to explore
traditional photography in art school because he
had not been able to do so in high school.
After three years, RC grading
policy receives mixed reviews
February 19, 2004
By Rachel Boyman
For the Daily
Three years since the Residential
College began administering letter
grades in addition to written evalua-
tions for the first time in its history,
the system has earned both the praise
and criticism of students.
RC Student Services Assistant
Charlie Murphy arrived after officials
chose to make the changes, but wit-
nessed its implementation.
"There was a lot of resistance at the
time, but as you bring in each new
entering class of students who come
in under the new grading basis, they
don't have anything to compare it
against," he said. "People don't seem
to have a problem with it in the vast
majority of cases."
Since its inception in 1967, the RC
relied on professors to compose writ-
ten evaluations for its students. With-
out a standard grading system,
graduates of the RC lacked a grade
point average to submit to other
institutions after graduation - a rea-
son Tom Weisskopf, director of the
RC, cited as the motivating factor for
"The main rationale was that there
was increased demand for GPAs on
the part of graduating students who
were going (on) to graduate profes-
sional school," he said. RC alumni
expressed concern when applying to
institutions because they were unable
to present a clear GPA, he said.
"For a while we had to impute a
'would-be GPA' and that was prob-
lematic because we didn't have actual
grades for the RC courses," Weis-
skopf said. "The main benefit is that
RC students will now have GPAs
readily supplied to others outside of
Ian Robinson, a professor in the RC
social science program, said he recog-
posed to have all As. That's called
grade inflation, but in fact everyone
was really motivated to do projects."
The course encouraged students to
engage in the issues and included a
trip to Mexico. "I felt the course was
a smashing success on both fronts so
the grades were kind of an irrelevance
in a way and even potentially nega-
tive," Robinson said.
RC senior Carol Gray said she
feels letter grades conflict with the
mission of the RC. "I think the RC is
about this continuous process of
learning and dialogue, and (by giving
grades) it's standardizing something
that in essence is not meant to be
standardized," she said. She also
expressed concern about the shift in
classroom dynamics. "Even if you
get a grade with an evaluation, it
changes the way you act in class. It
Still, some students enjoy having
both grades and evaluations. RC jun-
ior Jeremy Cook feels that both sys-
tems are biased, but together can
better depict a student. "I think they
give different pictures. An evaluation
can tell about you every day of class,
but the letter gives a more general
picture, and I think you need both to
give a really accurate picture of a stu-
dent in a class," he said.
Distributing letter grades may pro-
vide benefits to students, said Mark
Kirschenmann, an RC professor in the
School of Music. "Personally I like
having - and prefer having - a
graded system because in my experi-
ences I think that, for better or for
worse, grades oftentimes serve as a
quasi-motivating factor," he said. He
said he noticed that seniors under the
old grading policy participated in a
course just enough to pass. "My gen-
eral inclination is to think that the
pass-fail system had some downfalls
in that some of the students I've had
under that policy simply did enough
to get by," he said.
Despite the initial debate, most
students today do not seem bothered
by the grades. Murphy claimed to
receive few, if any, complaints since
the decision's execution. "If there are
some individuals who don't like it,
(which) I'm sure that's true, but
that's not really the case," he said.
"There's no great groundswell of
support here for going back to
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