Concluding a multi-year review of the methods and goals of a Stanford education, the Faculty Senate voted Thursday in favor of replacing the current Introduction to Humanities (IHUM) program. Freshmen will instead be required to take a one-quarter “Thinking Matters” course starting this upcoming academic year.
The Senate will reconsider a recommendation to require freshmen seminars after the 2015-16 academic year.
Earlier in the meeting, the Senate also voted on two revisions to the University’s policies governing faculty conflicts of interest and outside consulting, which were prompted by new federal regulations. These measures, which had been discussed at the Senate’s Feb. 23 meeting, were unanimously approved without floor discussion.
The Senate reviewed a report by the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy (C-USP) for a second time. C-USP issued the report in response to proposed changes to the freshman academic experience made in the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES) report.
Judy Goldstein, C-USP chair, opened the discussion by highlighting the most significant aspects of Thinking Matters, noting that–while the School of Humanities & Sciences was in charge of the IHUM program–responsibility for Thinking Matters will be spread across the University. Goldstein added that freshmen will be able to choose Thinking Matters courses in a way similar to normal lecture classes, rather than being bound to a particular class or quarter.
Goldstein also emphasized the reduced time commitments suggested by the C-USP report, which recommended requiring freshman to enroll in two courses–one Thinking Matters course and one freshman seminar–instead of the current three-quarter IHUM sequence. Freshmen would still take a Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) class as a requirement.
Senate Chair Rosemary Knight, professor of geophysics, reminded the Senate of concerns about the freshman seminar requirement expressed in the Senate’s previous meeting.
Senators had expressed skepticism that the University would be able to preserve the character of seminars if they were made mandatory–citing issues with scheduling, inadequate seminar numbers and student and faculty enthusiasm.
Acknowledging Knight’s concerns, Russell Berman, director of the IHUM and Introductory Seminar programs, put an amended version of C-USP’s recommendations before the Senate for its consideration.
While the amendment preserved the role of Thinking Matters as a requirement, it removed the freshman seminar requirement. Instead, Berman proposed that the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education work to expand seminar availability and encourage student participation in seminars. The Senate would reconsider the requirement of freshmen seminars after the 2015-16 academic year.
“I’m making these amendments in the spirit of endorsing the SUES report,” Berman said. Maintaining that increased seminar participation remains a principal objective, Berman emphasized that he wants to make sure that available seminars offer sufficient breadth and depth before any such requirement is implemented.
“We’re asking for several years in which we can pursue this strategy aggressively,” Berman said. “It could be the case that there are good reasons for students not to do it…Let’s leave open the possibility that some students are making wise choices.”
Faculty discussion of the amendment focused on the adequacy of requiring only one course alongside PWR, citing IHUM as providing a common experience for all Stanford freshman that might not be adequately replaced.
Carolyn Lougee Chappell, professor of history, argued that a freshman requirement should aim to bridge the gap for students between high school and university education.
“IHUM, in the course of a year, builds the skills that students will need for their whole university education,” Lougee Chappell said. “I’m skeptical that one quarter is sufficient.”
Berman acknowledged that any freshman requirement should ease the transition to university classes, but said that he’d encountered a majority of faculty that felt three quarters was excessive. He also expressed doubt that an extended freshman requirement would resonate academically with students.
“I don’t think the way to solve the learning issues is by compelling students into courses they wouldn’t take otherwise,” Berman said.
Noting the continued growth in the number of units demanded by majors, Chris Edwards, professor of mechanical engineering, emphasized the significance of ensuring that reduced requirements translates into greater freedom for freshmen to explore, rather than allowing departments to stipulate course requirements earlier in students’ academics careers.
Jeremy Weinstein, professor of political science, also spoke out against the amendment. Contrasting the amendment’s “wait-and-see” attitude toward seminars with the original recommendation’s mandate for requiring it, he expressed doubt that faculty would engage with the initiative at the level required.
“The amendment is set up to fail, as departments don’t have a strong incentive to offer more courses,” Weinstein said.
”Just at the start”
Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Harry Elam noted that his office, department chairs and the Office of the Provost will commence a discussion next week concerning compensation for faculty participation in seminars. Elam said that thirty more seminars would be required to accommodate the entirety of the freshman class.
“I actually think we can [accommodate the added seminars],” said Provost and Acting President John Etchemendy Ph.D. ‘82. “I don’t think it’s a forgone conclusion that it’ll be hard to do.”
Expressing concern that requiring freshman seminars might result in Thinking Matters becoming a “dumping ground” for students unable to find a seminar of interest, James Campbell, co-chair of the SUES committee, endorsed the amendment.
“We’re just at the start of a really long conversation,” Campbell said. “I hope people will remember that as we implement a whole series of innovations.”
The Senate voted by a margin of 27 to eight votes to accept Berman’s amendments, and by 27 to six votes–with two abstentions–in favor of the amended motion.