Committee to examine University Studies

The faculty senate voted on Monday to establish a committee to study the effectiveness of the University Studies program at Portland State.

With a 10-year history at Portland State, the University Studies program has become a national model for teaching innovative basic education, but despite widespread support the program has not changed with Portland State’s expanding student body or decreased budget, and people have been taking notice.

The ad hoc committee, appointed by the president and the Senate Steering Committee, will gather campus-wide input in the curricular design and administrative structure of University Studies. The committee will publish a report in fall 2005 that will include an assessment of the effectiveness of the program, the requirements in relation to bachelor of arts and bachelor of science requirements and data concerning budget and resource allocations.

Concerns with the program include unclear learning objectives with clusters and how University Studies ties into student majors, according to Interim Provost Michael Reardon.

Reardon drafted a memo in November, sent to several university administrators, advising that the university take a critical look at the University Studies program.

Michael Cummings, the presiding officer of the faculty senate, said there were 9,000 fewer students when the University Studies program was first developed, and like any academic PSU program, now needs to be looked at.

Michael Flower, cluster coordinator, said the university has become almost two-thirds larger than a decade ago and what needs to be worked on is improving coherence between all levels of the program and how it relates to students

Flower added that a lot of faculty like the program and support it; the faculty against the program is in the minority.

Judith Patton, director of University Studies, fully supports the program but admits that changes need to be made.

"The design of the program is good, but yes, it can function better."

Patton feels the main areas of improvement within the program lie with junior cluster courses and looking at ways to make the program more accessible to transfer students.

She said that 60 percent of PSU student transfer in, and the program doesn’t bring them in well.

According to a report from the University Studies Committee, junior clusters are the most problematic aspect of the University Studies curriculum. Some of them have been under-funded, some are too large to offer any coherence within the cluster, and others are too small to offer three courses in a year.

Student assessments to the program have been positive, with more then 70 percent feeling the University Studies program is meeting its goals. Still, many students have had problems with it.

"There will be occasions when groups of students have bad experiences," Patton said.

Rachel Woolen, a junior, said she didn’t feel the University Studies Program was explained very well during her freshman year.

"The description and course action weren’t congruent at all," Woolen said. "Sophomore inquiry was better but they were too easy, I didn’t feel I was learning anything."

Woolen is currently taking the pop culture inquiry for her junior year, and as a sociology major now sees the correlation between University Studies and her major. But despite that, she believes the program needs to offer better course descriptions and the cluster courses need a listing of what is going be offered each term.

Tina Huinh, a sophomore, said she did not really learn anything in her freshman inquiry course. As for University Studies, she said she knows she needs it to graduate.

But despite complaints Patton and others have faith in the University Studies program and believe it’s beneficial towards students and the university. What they’re working on is their reputation at home, and making sure that they look at what is most important.

"What we really need to pay attention to is what our students are learning," Patton said.