Big changes proposed for University Studies

A review of the University Studies program released Jan. 9 identifies several key issues with the program, including perceptions that the classes aren’t well taught, the occurrence of scheduling conflicts with mentor sessions and a lack of cohesiveness with upper division university studies courses.

Proposed solutions to the presented problems include changing Freshman Inquiry to four credits, requiring additional writing classes and eliminating cluster courses in favor of a system that allows students to earn credits toward a minor.

The document, released by the University Studies Review Committee, represents a list of ideas being considered by the committee, although no formal recommendations have yet been made.

The committee has been meeting weekly since July 2005 to study and collect relevant general education literature. The committee’s report also represents feedback from focus groups and town meetings, striving to present a balanced view of the program taking into consideration “both supporters of the program and skeptics.”

Cindy Brown, chair of the committee, hopes that releasing this preliminary document before the final report will give students and faculty an opportunity to participate by giving feedback to committee members before any changes to the University Studies program are recommended. According to Brown, the committee’s goal is, “to take a program that has done well, address the issues and take it to the next level.”

Brown calls the preliminary document “a list of talking points,” that she hopes will elicit comments from current and former University Studies students and faculty. She hopes that students will view the report and react to it, either by coming to one of two scheduled town hall meetings or by emailing their comments directly to the committee.

This is the third time the University Studies program has come under review since it began in the fall of 1994. Previous reports were issued in 1998 and 2000, and current committee members are aware that many of the recommendations from these previous reports were never executed. Brown acknowledged that the committee’s report is part of a “complex process” adding that, “we are an advisory committee, we don’t have the power to implement these changes on our own.”

According to Duncan Carter, head of the faculty senate, the University Studies program was born out of a “huge political effort” and an equally large effort will likely be necessary before changes to the program will be implemented. He cautions that care should be taken when tinkering with a program that has, “had real successes with attracting national attention and grant money.” Carter advocates for careful, conscientious change and he is optimistic that this time the review will be a success due largely to the commitment of Provost Roy Koch. According to Carter, the provost has “made it know that he wants to see a change.”

Judy Patton, director of University Studies, was unwilling to make specific comments on the committee’s discussion points. She cited a concern for faculty members and students to feel free to “speak unencumbered” without regard to her opinions on the report’s content.

“It’s good to see that the university is interested in general education,” she said, adding that she values an open forum and the work of the committee. Patton echoed Cindy Brown’s desire to see more students involved in the review process. “I wish students were on the committee.”

Students are encouraged to attend the University Studies Review Committee town meetings on Jan. 25 and Feb. 7 in the Vanport Room, SMSU 338. Both meetings are scheduled from 12:30-2 p.m. Comments can also be e-mailed directly to the committee at [email protected] The final report to the Faculty Senate from the committee is due in April of 2006.

The report is available on the committee’s website at http://unstreview.groups.pdx.edu.