Minutes of the Meeting of the Undergraduate Council
May 9, 2008
Present: Joseph Antonelli, Michael Barnhart, Brian Colle, Cynthia Dietz, Arlene Feldman, Sarah Fuller, Kane Gillespie, Norman Goodman, Leo Kamenetskiy, Joe Mitchell, Beverly Rivera, Scott Sutherland.
1. Sarah Fuller agreed to take notes.
2. Members were invited to respond to Brian Colle about the Council Minutes of April 11 and April 25.
3. Brian Colle indicated that a new Chair of the UG Council needed to be chosen for the next academic year, 2008-2009. By acclamation, Scott Sutherland was elected chair for the coming academic year. Beverly River agreed to continue as an Associate Chair of the Council.
4. Provost Eric Kaler joined the Council at 10:08 AM. The main topic of discussion was the DEC.
Brian Colle summarized the history of the recent UGC discussions of the DEC. A new DEC statement of purpose has been adopted and will appear in the Undergraduate Bulletin. The current DEC categories and requirements seem compatible with that statement. The Council has been concerned with the mechanics of DEC delivery—the timely completion of basic skills and completion of the DEC relatively early in a student’s academic career—and also with inadequacies in effective teaching of writing.
Provost Kaler agreed with the statement of goals. However, 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. One possible move in that direction could be a course in modern biology designed by Paul Bingham that could be delivered to 1000 students a semester.
Brian Colle remarked that more resources would be needed to effect some necessary changes. Sarah Fuller noted that the Council had not last year endorsed a requirement for news literacy because we did not want to burden students with an additional 3-credit DEC requirement and because we had no data on assessment of the course. Also noted was that the Provost has the authority to instruct CEAS to offer more DEC courses and that present DEC categories E and H would be suitable areas for that college’s increased participation.
Kane Gillespie cautioned that some portion of DEC malcontent on the part of students was in fact a broader malcontent with ‘general education’ requirements. Norman Goodman noted the importance of breadth in students’ general education and of providing students from diverse majors with common experiences. He questions broadening the DEC with many more choices.
Provost Kaler noted the importance of competent writing in English as a goal. Students should be trained to write competently about matters that interest them in their field. The UG Council agrees in its concern about competence in writing, and its perception of the ineffectiveness of the current USB writing program. The new Director of the Writing Program will have a major role in dealing with current problems. The UG Council has launched an inquiry into departmental practices of administering and assessing the upper-division writing requirement. Michael Barnhart noted the importance of gathering reliable information on the current state of the upper-division writing requirement and of opening channels of communication to deal with present inadequacies in that domain. Portfolios for the upper-division writing requirement should be reviewed by representative faculty groups who could assess standards across departments.
Norman Goodman noted that major learning objectives needed to be incorporated to a greater extent in existing courses. Sociology had to cancel an upper-division writing seminar because it no longer had the resources to offer it. It is unrealistic to add new courses to the curriculum in the present fiscal climate. Kane Gillespie remarked that to increase writing seminars was a major resource issue and would require 30 or more additional FTE.
Provost Kaler mentioned that many [undergraduate] courses are under-credited, with the result that faculty workloads are not accurately represented. Norman Goodman noted that the SUNY way of calculating credit hours was more rigid than that in the State Education Guidelines.
The Provost is 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. Norman Goodman thought there might be some outside financial support for such an initiative.
Provost Kaler noted that Mark Aronoff in his office is the ‘point person’ for matters of the undergraduate curriculum and mentioned his support for increased regular communication between his office and the UG Council. Norman Goodman noted that it has been a long-standing university policy for the Administration to entrust existing faculty governance committees with recommendations and actions on university issues that come under their purview rather than having the Administration establish special Task Forces on such issues. It was suggested that there be more open discussion among current faculty about the DEC and general education requirements, either in a Town Hall meeting or in targeted smaller groups campus wide. Provost Kaler drew attention to the extended period of time since the DEC was first adopted and advocated serious scrutiny of the DEC curriculum in the context of present day life and the future faced by our students.
The Council offered warm thanks to Brian Colle for his expert chairing of the Council over the past two years and to Beverly Rivera for her contributions as Associate Chair and her willingness to continue in that capacity.