Page 10 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, July 18, 1986
A report on LSA's quality and future
The following are excerpts Arts appointed a panel, known as the given to the teaching of critical
"Blue Ribbon Commission," to make thinking... Our curriculum lacks;
from a special report a careful study of two extremely im- structure and a sense of purpose...
prepared by LSA 's Blue portant issues confronting the ...Faculty members often feel
RibbonCommission. A copy epCollegeai-pulled apart by the demands of
The first of this interrelated pair of teaching on the one hand and the
of the report, which has not issues is the sharp and continuing demands of research on the other.+
been publicly released, was decline in the number of eighteen- There are some faculty who resolve
obtained by the Daily. I is year-olds. The number of eighteen- this tension by focusing on either4
year-olds in the Midwest and Nor- research or teaching to the detriment
dated April22, 1986. The ex- theast regions of the country, from of the other. Most faculty believe that
cerpts were compiled by which the College draws the vast "the reward system" in the College is4
majority of its students, has already tilted almost exclusively in favor of
Daily staff writer Philip declined significantly... In Michigan research...
Levy. the eighteen-year-old cohort of 1994 ...The Commission believes that we
The report suggests ways
ThereAtoporogests ways- 'Our curriculum lacks a structure and a
for LSA to improve its un-
dergraduate curriculum amid sense of purpose.'
a predicted drop in the
will be about 35 percent smaller than can turn the quality of our research
college's applicant pool. it was in 1979... faculty into our greatest advantage.
It is the result of three The second of the two issues that the Researchers are in the business of
ysof work, although the Commission was charged to study'is acquiring, interpreting, and
years fthe curriculum of the College. The evaluating information and beliefs.
commission was originally term "curriculum" was defined But that is precisely what we are or
given only two. The 22-page rather broadly, so that it includes not should be teaching our students -
only such matters as concentration how to acquire, interpret, and
document has been sent to and distribution requirements, but the evaluate information and beliefs. This
top administrators in both full range of what our students learn... means that researchers should be
LSA and the University ad- Our present distribution requirem- among the best teachers of un-
ents themselves are in disarray, in dergraduates...
ministration, and has also part because almost every un- ...Our College is one of the largest, if
been distributed to depar- dergraduate course, no matter how not the largest, pure liberal arts
specialized or otherwise unsuitable, colleges in the country. It maintains
tment heads. can be used to satisfy them... We have high standards of quality for both
It is unclear how the report become aware that some potential faculty and students. It should play a
will affect LSA education. students, while convinced of the leading role il the preservation of the
research distinction of our faculty, of- liberal arts tradition in the face of
LSA Dean Peter Steiner said, ten choose other schools because they severe social pressures. Many schools
"It is aprovocative report with a do not expect that high quality to af- are attempting to save themselves by
feet the education they would receive instituting very narrow vocationally-
large number of recommen- here... oriented programs. Our mission must
dations; some interesting, instead be that of a champion of the
some expensive, and some ..Our college is currently a liberal arts themselves.
"fashionable" college which, like
both." One expensive Brown, Harvard, Stanford, Virginia, Curriculum
recommendation is a system and a number of other schools, attrac- The purpose of the SKILL
is more qualified applicants than it curriculum (Skill and Knowledge in
of new courses teaching can admit... Lifetime Learning) would be to
critical thinking. The cour- ...our students and their parents capitalize on our research strengths
ses, fully implemented, complain often and loudly about large as an institution by providing students
classes here, about the extensive use with fundamental approaches to
would cost more than $1 of teaching assistants in important gaining knowledge: methods of in-
million, courses, particularly in the first two vestigation, proposing explanatory
years, and about the use of foreign- models and theories, critical thinking,
Steiner said he will bring born teaching assistants whose recognition of assumptions and
the report before the college linguistic skills sometimes leave limitations, the problem of
Exec eCom tt in the much to be desired.. verification, etc. This goal would be
utive C mite i ...As tuition increases at a rate achieved...through courses which
fall. Elsewhere, reaction greater than inflation, these grievan- essentially deal with these in the con-
from administrators such as cewill come to be even more sharply text of specific problem-solving
felt. Even now, Michigan does not situations within disciplines... SKILL
Vice President for Academic rank as a preeminent undergraduate courses would have just as much
Affairs James Duderstadt institution in the minds of many whom disciplinary content as the other cour-
h been positive. we hope to attract. ses already in our curriculum. But
as ...Faculty continue to complain there would be a greater emphasis on
The report is split into a about the writing of their students. and self-consciousness about critical
general introduction and Some complain that their students intellectual skills, together with
have not learned how to think in heavier stress on having students
several more specific sets of earlier courses here. Some feelthat practice those skills during the cour-
suggestions. They deal with many of our students are not in- se.
curriculum, quality terested in learning but only in ...Responses which the Commission
of in- passing examinations and being ad- solicited from faculty contain many
struction, counseling, mitted to professional school. ideas for SKILL courses: for exam-
student life, and admissions Although our evidence is only anec- ple, (1) a humanitites course on
dotal, we are seriously concerned that "Knowledge, Words, and Power"
and financial aid policies, our students are not being sufficiently which would concern the implications
Each section has an in- well-trained in those intellectual skills for knowldege and life of languages'
troduction and recommen- which it is the avowed purpose of grammar, metaphoricity, aesthetic
liberal education to cultivate, and that potentials, and "ideological" charac-
dations. their curiosity and love of learning ter, (2) a history course built on con-
Introduction are not sufficiently stimulated. Cour- flicting interpretations of several
In the Fall of 1983, the Dean and ses in our college are generally of events, stressing thematically-
the Executive Committee of the high-quality with respect to con- related, but conceptually- distinct
College of Literature, Science, and the tent ..but relatively little attention is issues for which sharply divergent
schools of interpretation exist; (3) a periences of it.sIndthe current
chemistry course which would in- situation where students are not
vestigate the relationship between required to see a counselor regularly
structure and chemical properties, during their underclass year... it is
and the concepts used in synthesizing difficult for that educationsl process to
new chemicals, through the use of ar- occur.
chitectural models of molecules... 1. The quantity of undergraduate
The SKILL program in full counseling should be increased. Many
operation would provide students, more faculty members should be in-
during their first two years here, with volved in this activity.
a four-course sequence, of the type of 2. Students should be required to
courses suggested above: Three cour- see a faculty counselor on a regular
ses in a large-course format (which basis every term during the freshman
we have termed "planet" courses) and sophomore years.
and one small (seminar) format 3. Each student should be assigned
"satellite" course, which would build to a faculty concentration advisor,
on a specific aspect of a planet course. and there should ,be some com-
The aim of this SKILL curriculum munication between the general;
would be to set a distinct tone for counselor and the concentration ad-
liberal arts education at Michigan, a visor at the point of transition.
tone whose dominant feature would be Student Life
critical inquiry. Many students feel their relations
Implementation of the SKILL with faculty are generally imper-
curriculum would be gradual, both in sonal, often to the point that they can-
view of the availability of funding, not find three faculty members who
and of the need to evaluate, adapt, or know them well enough to write a let-
change the model on the basis of ex- ter of recommendation. Meanwhile, a
perience during the initial years. study done by students in Sociology
Gradual introduction of SKILL 310, Introduction to Research
courses would not immediately affect Methods, indicates a good deal of
existing LS&A requirements... At student desire for greater faculty con-
some point (when the program has tact, for improved counseling, and for
matured), the College might consider a decrease in competition in the
making the SKILL curriculum a classroom.
requirement... Many students expect faculty to be
Quality Control Over Instruction responsive to these concerns; faculty,
The curricular section of this report for their part, expect students to take
focuses upon the need to provide the initiative in seeking assistance,
students with the skills required for encouragement, and advice ...
acquiring and critically evaluating 1. Departments should have a
new knowledge. The mere existence systematic and organized way of
of new courses, however, will not en- communicating with their un-
sure that these goals are being met. dergraduates, and have mechanisms
Mechanisms must be put into place to for hearing and dealing with general
'Many students feel their relations with
faculty are generally impersonal.'
monitor the quality and effectiveness problems. One way of doing this is by
of our teaching efforts. Because the organizing undergraduate
current incentive and reward struc- associations ...
ture of the College is interpreted by 2. Departments should be aware of
most faculty as placing a low priority student vocational intertbsts and
on teaching, the creation of courses should make students aware of
that are truly excellent poses a severe specific vocational opportunities
logistical problem. This problem ob- available through study of that
viously extends to the entire specific discipline.
curriculum. In order to change this 3. Departments should increase
widespread perception that the College informal contas, with students,
does not regard teaching as a high both to improve the intellectual
priority, we recommend that the climate with undergraduates and to
College establish a meaningful and make them further aware of the
systematic procedure of quality con- usefulness of liberal education -in
trol over its entire teaching effort and today's world . .
utilize the information obtained in this 4. Undergraduates are among the
way to distribute rewards and san- least expensive and least utilized
ctions to departments... resources in the College. More un-
Counseling dergraduates should be used as
.ograders and as facilitators, as is now
Currently, the process of academic dn nEgihadWmnsSuis
coneigis held in very low esteem done in English and Women's Studies.
counseling 5shl nvrylwete . Opportunities for undergraduates
throughout the College. Students and topprtitiesnforudyr es
faculty view it as a bureaucratic soparticipate in faculty reearch
procedure. One result of this attitude should be greatly expanded.
is that students do not get enough Commission members were
guidance and structure in their Jack Meiland, Chairman
academic programs with the result Michael Cohen, Political Science
that their general educational Herbert Eagle, Slavic Languagt
programs and the concentrations and Literatures
they pursure are sometimes far from Lewis Kleinsmith, Biology
what the College intends. Hugh Montgomery, Mathematics
The purpose of general counseling Rejeev Samantrai, student
should be to teach the student what to Martha Vicinus, English
expect from the College, how to get it, Albert Hermalin, Sociology
and how to evaluate his or her ex,