Undergraduate Activities 2007-2008

Members: Joseph Antonelli (UG student rep), Michael Barnhart, Ora Bouey, Janet Clarke, Brian Colle (Chair), Donna Di Donato, Cynthia Dietz, Arlene Feldman, Sarah Fuller, Rick Gatteau, Kane Gillespie, Norman Goodman, Cheryl Hamilton, Leo Kamenetskiy (UG student rep), Joe Mitchell, Beverly Rivera, and Scott Sutherland.

Review of Diversied Education Curriculum (D.E.C.)

The UG Council spent much of the academic year reviewing the D.E.C., since it has not been critically reviewed in the last several years.

Introduction

The Undergraduate Council (UGC) met frequently during the 2007-2008 academic year to discuss the Diversified Education Curriculum (D.E.C.) requirements for Stony Brook University (SBU). There are three things to consider when determining whether the D.E.C. needs modifications:

  • Mechanics: Are the requirements impossible to fulfill in the four years of undergraduate study? Will there be enough classroom seats for specific DEC categories as enrollments at SBU continue to rise?
  • Pedagogical: Is the DEC failing to provide a really “diversified” program of exposure for undergraduates?
  • Philosophical: Is the entire idea behind the DEC wrong or outdated? Should Stony Brook move to a different sort of General Educational requirement? In addition to its value to broaden the education of students beyond their major, another test of a common curriculum is to bring students together who would ordinarily not be in a common class and get them to think with each other.

Stony Brook must also conform with state guidelines for general education.

General Education Statement

The Undergraduate Council wrote an updated statement on the goals on the D.E.C, which is now in the Undergraduate Bulletin, and it serves as a foundation to discuss the philosophy of the D.E.C. at SBU:

“The DEC is the Stony Brook version of a general education program that is integral to most college and university curricula.  It introduces students to a breadth of knowledge that balances and complements the depth of study provided by their major field.  The DEC is designed to accomplish several goals:  First, to develop an understanding of how different disciplines define, acquire, and organize knowledge; second, to enhance understanding of Western and non-Western cultures as well as their reciprocal influence on each other; third, to provide a basis for an examination of values; fourth, to develop analytic, synthetic, linguistic, computational, communication, and information-gathering skills useful for lifelong learning; and, finally, to provide a common foundation for wide-ranging dialogue with peers on issues of significance.  In its multiple facets, the DEC encourages students to develop a critical and inquiring attitude, an appreciation of complexity and ambiguity, a tolerance for and empathy with persons and groups of different backgrounds or values, and a deepened sense of self.  In short, the goal of the DEC is to prepare students to appreciate and to be able to function effectively in an increasingly complex world.”

Strengths and Weaknesses of the D.E.C.

The UGC discussed whether the D.E.C. is broken. The consensus on the UGC (10-1 vote) is that the current DEC is fulfilling the philosophically and pedagogically goals. Stony Brook does offer a unique set of general education requirements that are relevant and up to date. Many of the D.E.C. requirements are set by SUNY, and Stony Brook satisfies these and goes beyond the basic requirements to some extend (DEC K—American Pluralism). Therefore, a major overhaul of the D.E.C. does not seem necessary. A few new proposals were mentioned, such as implementing more courses that would be shared among many students and departments (e.g. “News Literacy”), but this was not viewed as a viable option. Perhaps after learning more about the strengths and weaknesses of the Journalism “News Literacy” course, this idea can be revisited. Some new skill categories were discussed, such as “Information Technology,” but the hope is that the current suite of SBU courses already teach students how to use technology and communicate, so adding more course requirements to the D.E.C. seemed unnecessary, though it would be useful to build these skills into more of the D.E.C. courses than is currently the case.

However, by an 11-0 vote, the UGC believes the D.E.C. is broken mechanically. There are several issues with the skill and D.E.C. requirements that need to be addressed in order for the D.E.C. to function as it was designed. If these issues can not be addressed with current university resources, then a more major D.E.C. restructuring may be necessary.

Skill Issues:

  • Many students are not finishing the basic Skills before the end of the sophomore year (end of 2nd semester). This is critical for students to understand the more advanced material within their major and more advanced D.E.C. courses.

Recommendation: Require all students to finish Skills 1-3 by the end of their sophomore year. If not completed, they must see an academic advisor to register.

  • Skill 4 is an anomaly with respect to other skills. It was implemented to deal with the fact that SUNY-Cental rejected SBU’s DEC K (American Pluralism) as American History. Other problem: There may not be enough skill 4 seats given the demand by juniors and seniors (looking into this...).

Recommendation: (1) (a) take K4 course (one that currently satisfies both D.E.C. K and Skill 4 or (b) satisfy Skill 4 by taking an appropriate course of AP credit and an American Plurism course. However, there are some “F4” courses, so the change would need to be slightly more complex.  (2) Modify more of DEC K to satisfy skill 4 and re-approach Albany. (3) Students can satisfy by either taking an American History related course within DEC K (skill 4 allowed courses) or DEC L (all American History). (3) Leave Skill 4 as is. More discussion is needed.

  • Need more effective Writing Program (Skill 2 is suffering as a result).

Recommendation: Need better placement approach, more sections (resources), and perhaps a “rising junior” exam to insure students understand basic grammar.

  • More rigorous and consistent upper-division writing requirement across departments.

Recommendation: Survey departments to assess whether the requirements are rigorous across the departments and, if not, to engage departments in a discussion of ways to improve the effectiveness of this requirement.

D.E.C. Issues:

  • Perception that some D.E.C. courses are an easy “A.”

Recommendation: There needs to be a close analysis between mode-A courses and their enrollments.

  • Are there too many courses for some D.E.C. categories? Some students search out those that count for major and general education.

Recommendation: See next bullet. The number of seats for all courses needs to be counted and looked at more closely.

  • D.E.Cs should be reviewed by the Curriculum Committee every 5 years or so to see if the courses fit the D.E.C. categories. Also, the courses need to be reviewed to determine if they are incorporating 21st century skills, which could be a D.E.C. category by itself, but we are hoping are covered in the courses (e.g. Information Management, and Information Technology).

Recommendation: Since the courses within the D.E.C. have not been reviewed in several years, the Curriculum Committee should review the current D.E.C. courses as soon as possible, so this information can be related to the enrollment information above.

  • Need more courses for D.E.C. D.

Recommendation: More sections (resources) are need for this important D.E.C. requirement.

  • DEC/general education curriculum needs to be considered in the context of the overall degree requirements of the University, including upper division writing, major, etc., ensuring there are adequate pathways for students to complete degree requirements in a timely manner.

Recommendation: An assessment is needed to determine whether the D.E.C. requirements allow students to complete requirements in a timely manner.

  • Students are not finishing D.E.Cs A,B,C by the end of their sophomore year.

Recommendation: Students need to take D.E.Cs A,B,C by the end of their sophomore year, or they need to see an advisor before they can register.

  • A rationale statement for the D.E.C. has been added, but do students really understand and appreciate the purpose of the D.E.C. (Not just alphabet soup…).

Recommendation: Undergraduate Bulletin has been modified to suggest a more Tier-system (I,II,III). The importance (uniqueness) of the D.E.C. needs to be sold to the students at an early time (Orientation and Advising).

Other UG Council Activities

  • Critical Incident Management Initiative

The UG Council iterated with the Graduate Council on statements in course syllabi on the new “Critical Incident Management:”
“Stony Brook University expects students to respect the rights, privileges, and property of other people.  Faculty are required to report to the Office of Judicial Affairs any disruptive behavior that interrupts their ability to teach, compromises the safety of the learning environment, and/or inhibits students’ ability to learn.”
 and the new integrity statement:
“Each student must pursue his or her academic goals honestly and be personally accountable for all submitted work.  Faculty are required to report any suspected instance of academic dishonesty to the Academic Judiciary.  For more comprehensive information on academic integrity, including categories of academic dishonesty, please refer to the Academic Judiciary website at http://www.stonybrook.edu/uaa/academicjudiciary/.”

2.   WISE on Diploma or Transcript
All members reviewed the proposal from WISE to put a statement of program completion on either the diploma or transcript. SUNY policy recommends that only the Degree should be printed on the SUNY diploma, thus WISE can not be printed there. There was discussion about possibly putting WISE on the transcript. Specializations can be listed on the transcript. There were concerns that WISE does not seem to be a 4-year academic program, but rather a support program that stresses research. There are limited WISE-related courses taken the sophomore through senior years.  The consensus on the Council was to deny a WISE printing on the transcript or diploma. The chair (Brian) sent a memo to Carrie-Ann Miller of WISE about the Council’s decision on this matter.

  • Requested change in number of credits allowed during the Winter Session

Deputy Provost Brent Lindquist requested approval to amend the policies for the number of credits students are allowed to take during the Winter Session and to permit them to enroll for up to two courses totaling a maximum of eight credits but still retain the restriction that no petitions will be allowed. There was considerable discussion of this issue.  Some information of the policies of other campuses within SUNY, which indicated some variability across campuses, was discussed as was the available time for students to absorb the substance required in two courses (including out-of-class time study and reflection) over a three-week period. Consideration was given to the possibility of maintaining the current policy but allowing a petition to take two courses to students who exhibited the ability to do high quality academic work (e.g., with a GPA of 3.0 or greater).  The issue was finally resolved by a 6-4 vote in favor of keeping the present policy.

  • Inclusion of a D.E.C. rationale statement in the Undergraduate Bulletin

The Council considered the one-paragraph rationale for the D.E.C. to help students, staff, and faculty understand the philosophy of the D.E.C. The following statement was approved for inclusion at an appropriate place in the Undergraduate Bulletin:
“The DEC is the Stony Brook version of a general education program that is integral to most college and university curricula.  It introduces students to a breadth of knowledge that balances and complements the depth of study provided by their major field.  The DEC is designed to accomplish several goals:  First, to develop an understanding of how  different disciplines define, acquire, and organize knowledge; second, to enhance understanding of Western and non-Western cultures as well as their reciprocal influence on each other; third, to provide a basis for an examination of values; fourth, to develop analytic, synthetic, linguistic, computational, communication, and information-gathering skills useful for lifelong learning; and, finally, to provide a common foundation for wide-ranging dialogue with peers on issues of significance.  In its multiple facets, the DEC  encourages students to develop a critical and inquiring attitude, an appreciation of complexity and ambiguity, a tolerance for and empathy with persons and groups of different backgrounds or values, and a deepened sense of  self.  In short, the goal of the DEC is to prepare students to appreciate and to be able to function effectively in an increasingly complex world.”

  • University Course Packets

Concerns were raised regarding course packets which are made available for courses through sale. Copyrights must be secured in order for the materials to be used. The challenges faculty members face are both the cost (as much as $50 per course pack) and the time needed to secure the copyright. The high copyright costs have contributed to particularly high costs of course packets to students in the University bookstore. A proposal was introduced within the Council to create a centralized University-wide coursepack center to deal with copyright issues legally and collectively, to perform printing services, and to handle sales and distribution, in hopes of reduced costs and reduced “bootlegging”.  The UGC expressed concern about the resources necessary to run such an operation, citing the fact that a few people would need to be hired and that copyrights can be expensive to secure in some cases. The issue was deferred for a later time, as more investigation is needed on the practices of other universities.

  • Writing Program

The UG Council discussed the Writing Program with Dean Staros in March 2008. All agreed that writing is an important part of the SBU education and many students are struggling with it. There are concerns about the (lack of) resources in the Writing Program. It was recommended that the Writing Center be reviewed, and its need for more resources. There is also concern about the upper division writing requirement. A questionnaire was distributed to the DUGS about how their department handles/enforces the upper-diversion writing requirement.

  • Honor Society

A proposal was presented for a new honor society (National Society of Collegiate Scholars). The Society requires a 3.5 min GPA over the student’s first two semesters. The Society has involved in social activities (tutoring, Spring break to New Orleans to help Katrina victims). The Council approved the honor society.

  • Meetings with Provosts

Mark Aronoff, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education visited with the Undergraduate Council on April 25, 2008 to discuss activities over the academic year and upcoming plans.  He followed up on the Council's brief discussion of the DEC with the comment that the Provost would like to see a joint Provostial/University Senate task force established to review Stony Brook’s general education requirements.

Provost Eric Kaler joined the Council on May 9, 2008 to discuss the D.E.C. He is concerned about a general dissatisfaction with the DEC (especially among students), problems of course availability, and student DEC choices motivated more for maximizing GPA (i.e. courses that have a reputation for being ‘easy’, or in which ‘A’ is the predominant grade) than for broadening of intellectual vistas. He advocates a DEC with more computational and technological elements and with a news literacy component.  He would like to see more efficient delivery of diversified (general) education and greater participation in that delivery from the CEAS faculty. Stony Brook should think about a revised DEC curriculum that could become a national model. The Provost is also concerned that USB has to face major remedial issues in writing and math for incoming students.  It was suggested that the university work more in partnership with major ‘feeder’ high schools and Long Island community colleges to improve articulation between their writing and math standards and what USB expects in terms of entry-level skills.

  • Program Reviews

Anthropology on October 23: Scott Sutherland attended
Pharmacology on November 13: Beverly Rivera attended
Electrical & Computer Engineering on April 15: Brian Colle attended