Minutes:  Undergraduate Council, October 19, 2010

Present: Kathleen Bratby, Donna Di Donato, Cynthia Dietz, Arlene Feldman, Sarah Fuller, Richard Gatteau, Jeffrey Ge, D. Kane Gillespie, Norman Goodman, Cheryl Hamilton, Roy Lacey, Joseph Mitchell, Anne Moyer, Beverly Rivera, Scott Sutherland, EK Tan
Guest:  Charles Robbins, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of the Undergraduate Colleges

The minutes from the Undergraduate Council meeting of October 12 were reviewed and approved.

Council chair, Scott Sutherland, introduced Council guest Vice Provost Robbins, who in turn said that he was happy to attend the meeting and tell the group about his charge, and in particular what is planned for the next year.  Dr. Robbins said that he would like to see collaboration between the Office of the Provost and the relevant committees and other governance structures.  He would like to know more about and assist in all areas that serve undergraduate students.

Specific areas of exploration in the next year include honors education, undergraduate academic advising, (general and in the major) as well as the Undergraduate Colleges.  The Living Learning Center program works to continue some of the thematically related experiences found in the Undergraduate Colleges and will also be included in the year’s review.

Two other areas under review include the Professional Education Program (PEP) and Teaching, Learning and Technology (TL+T).

PEP’s programs include undergraduate and graduate teaching programs, five-year combined programs, and post masters graduate certificate programs.

Included in the TL+T review are the sinc sites, the Faculty Center and assessment.

Dr. Robbins said that he is also interested in issues associated with the diversity of our undergraduate student population, particularly related to African American and Latino students who have been trending downward as of late.  He said that it is important for the University, as part of our mission, to look at this issue and ask if we can change the representation in our applicant pool.

He also expressed some concern that in the context of the University’s strategic planning process, the student experience falls under a separate committee from all other planning, rather than being infused throughout.

Norman Goodman stated that class size is a great concern to the Undergraduate Council.  C. Robbins asked if this concern stems from the most recent budget cuts or a trend over time.  Scott Sutherland responded that the answer is “both”.  

Sarah Fuller said that course availability is also a problem, and pointed out that we did not have sufficient availability for students admitted last fall.  She also expressed concern that students who have been through the writing program still do not know how to write and that the upper division writing requirement is broadly defined and unevenly implemented by departments.  C. Robbins indicated that similar concerns were reported in meetings with undergraduate program directors and asked if the work of the general education committee included a discussion of the University’s writing requirement.

D. Di Donato responded that yes, it did and that a sub-committee of the full group which is working on educational foundations (including writing) is being chaired by Writing Program director, Gene Hammond.

Norman Goodman raised the issue of the physical arrangements of rooms for classes of all sizes.  C. Robbins responded that in the renovation of Old Chemistry, classrooms have been designed with these sorts of things in mind.

Roy Lacey pointed out that much information has been collected about this issue, but little has been done with the resulting reports.  He continued that there is no specific information as to whether or not these classroom models have been tested and found to be effective.  He also said that we rediscover the same things year after year, with no longitudinal data taken into account.  There should be more continuity of this work.  He further wondered how the rearranging of seats would help the large class situation.

Scott Sutherland responded that it appears that research has been done on class sizes as large as 50 or so, but not on classes of 300 or more.  Active learning has been demonstrated as useful but we need to know more about large class size dynamics.

C. Robbins agreed that we need to take a look at this.

S. Fuller mentioned that the Council has also been considering the issue of undergraduate TAs, particularly the range of how this role is implemented and carried out in departments.

S. Sutherland claimed that the entire issue of students teaching needs some attention, that there are no controls over what is done and how it is done.

R. Lacey said that the departments should enforce and monitor overall quality, and should not be micro-managed.  Most problems should be able to be solved by having a conversation with a problematic department.

C. Robbins said that in some cases, depending on what’s happening, departments may need more than a conversation to resolve the problem.

R. Lacey wondered how a rule would solve a problem. N. Goodman responded that a rule sets a standard.

S. Sutherland raised the issue of encouraging students into summer and winter courses, but wondered what incentives there were to attract more faculty to teach in these sessions.

Anne Moyer responded that, traditionally, summer and winter sessions offer a time for graduate students who need funding an opportunity to teach.

N. Goodman said that the focus of our attention needs to be the quality of education we provide.

Submitted by Donna Di Donato
November 2, 2010