March 4, 2003 | Homewood Campus
[Minutes approved at 12.02.03 meeting.]
The meeting was called to order at 3:00 pm by HFA Chair, Professor George Fisher. Professor Fisher noted that, for sake of expedience, the agenda for this meeting was distributed by email. He asked the faculty present if emailed agendas were preferable to paper; there was unanimous support for email.
The main item on the agenda for this meeting was a presentation by Paula Berger, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs & International Programs and Acting Vice Provost for Education, on the interim report of CUE: the Committee on Undergraduate Education. The substance of her presentation was the charge to the committee, its membership, working assumptions, subcommittees, findings, and preliminary recommendations; all of these can be found in CUE's preliminary report. The report was distributed in paper form at this meeting, and can also be accessed at www.jhu.edu/news_info/reports/cue on the web. Dr. Berger invited questions and comments during her presentation, and we summarize the lively discussion here.
In response to the recommendations concerning academic experience:
Question [Jason Eisner]: How will the quality of programs be judged (say, by the dean's office).
Answer: To begin, departments will judge themselves via self-studies, and will benchmark themselves against comparable departments at other institutions.
Comment [Wilson (Jack) Rugh]: There is a danger that this [the creation of new administration members to oversee undergraduate education] is a "bureaucratic" response. To be effective, any new positions must be clearly defined.
Response: Specific roles will be defined.
Comment: The recommendations are laudable, but to be implemented more resources will be necessary. In order for there to be more small classes, we either must hire more faculty or increase the size of some (already) large courses.
Comment [Greg Ball]: It is extremely difficult to estimate the resources necessary to implement this plan. Any steps we take to improve the situation will certainly make things better for students.
Comment [Joe Shalika]: Honors courses can be useful for freshman/sophomores. Some huge lecture courses that these students attend can be intellectually deadening.
Comment [Jon Bagger]: Our old model (minimal attention to undergraduates) has worked well in light of the small size of JHU. We cannot "do it all" without giving something up. What should we give up?
Question: How dissatisfied are the students? If Baltimore is the problem, changing academic programs will not solve the issues. Is the faculty assuming too much responsibility for student dissatisfaction?
Response: Student life problems do exist (e.g., JHU is in "boring" Baltimore), but students were clear in pointing to problems with the academic experience.
Question: What is the effect of student dissatisfaction on our applicant pool?
Response: There are no problems yet in the size of the applicant pool (indeed, the size of the pool is up here at JHU, and at other institutions), but there is an effect on the yield. We need to compete for the best students. The increase in the applicant pool might be due, in part, to the ease of online application.
Comment [Rao Kosaraju]: Student dissatisfaction does have a detrimental effect on alumni giving.
Question [Alan Goldman]: Is it possible, through the admissions process, to shape the student body so that the students we select are better suited for the experience we provide at JHU?
Response: We hope we can do better in this regard. We won't be able to do everything well, but there are structural problems that create barriers.
Comment: English majors are now stronger, but there are not enough of them to create a community among the majors.
Response: Humanities students feel they are second-class citizens. We need to make the humanities more visible.
Follow-on comments: There are similar "lack of community" problems in mathematics and physics.
Comment [Beverly Wendland]: Biology is suffering from the academic integrity issue. Cheating appears to have become part of the JHU student culture with the mentality, "if everyone else is cheating, I must too." Cheating is blatant and shameless.
Response: We need to be unequivocal in setting our standards, to be strict and vigilant in upholding those standards, and to educate students as to what is expected. Some schools have required programs/courses on academic ethics. Cheating is, in part, a result of students succumbing to stress.
Comment [Jason Eisner]: The university should consider deploying plagiarism-detection software.
Question [Steven Zucker]: Is cheating linked to the level of the course?
Response: I am not sure, but cheating is more prevalent in large science classes. Curve grading can contribute to the pressure to cheat as students see performance as a zero-sum game. This zero-sum mentality is not present around a seminar table, and this helps to reduce the temptation to cheat.
Comment [Beverly Wendland]: [Many? All?] Biology courses are not graded on a curve; I would be thrilled if all students in my course earned an A. However, some students are ingrained in the "curve culture".
Question: Many Art History majors are double majors in other disciplines. It can be difficult for students to satisfy two majors if they don't declare soon enough. How can we help them?
Response: Agreed. Related and collateral course requirements can become onerous. How can we do things differently to encourage breadth?
At this point Dr. Berger presented the proposal to change our MTW/ThF schedule to the more universal MWF/TTh structure, mentioning various rationales for this change.
Comment: I have reservations to this change. I am concerned that attendance in Friday classes will be low resulting in the following quandary. Should Friday's material be reviewed the following Monday (boring for students who attended Friday) or should the instructor continue on (losing the students who missed Friday)? This issue is analogous to attendance problems we face on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
I have another reservation concerning faculty travel. MWF classes make travel to professional seminars and meetings more difficult, and such travel is important in developing academic reputation.
Furthermore, many students also oppose the change.
Response: A recent Newsletter editorial supported the change. There is some mixed reaction on the part of the student body.
Comment: Junior faculty do not get tenure for teaching well. Extensive travel is important to building stature in the academic community, and this is only possible if Friday is available for travel.
Comment [Richard Wentworth]: The MTW schedule is a strong attraction when recruiting new faculty.
Comment: In biology, summer meetings are the norm. Spacing out classes (i.e., MWF vs MTW) is important for pedagogy. The changed schedule will not affect research.
Comment: At Duke, courses scheduled as MWF have the option to be given as MW (for 75 minutes each).
Comment: Although switching to MWF will be more compatible with Peabody's schedule, travel/interaction at SAIS is only possible if there is a day without classes.
Comment: Physicists rely on travel to large, national facilities to use shared instrumentation/equipment. Perhaps graduate students could cover Friday classes.
Comment [Joel Spruck]: There is a pedagogical advantage to clustering classes MTW. In math, the three lectures are supplemented by a fourth hour conference section with a TA. Furthermore, 50% attendance is the norm in large classes.
Also, exams given in packed rooms under a 50-minute time pressure promote cheating.
Question: Does the proposed change in course schedule preclude 2-hour seminars?
Question: Would 2-hour seminars necessarily become 3-hour seminars?
Comment [Steven Zucker]: Students cannot sit for more than 50 minutes in a calculus class. Teaching Assistants cover conference sections, and more assistance is available in the department's help room. There will not be a big effect on the Math Department by this change.
Comment: Directed reading courses are threatened by this change. One third of classes [in this faculty member's department] are taught by non- tenure-track faculty, so a change in schedule is not likely to affect the amount of time students interact with faculty.
Comment [Greg Ball]: The proposed time change is designed to be "time neutral". Directed reading courses are valued, and will not be affected by the change. Different majors can respond to the changes in their own way.
Comment [Joseph Shalika]: The Thursday-to-Sunday time block is extremely valuable as it creates a long, uninterrupted period for research.
Comment [Andrew Douglas]: There is a huge variability in class times. The change has valuable social aspects.
Comment: There is a tension between faculty and student needs that we must resolve.
Comment: The close packing of classes has an advantage in that Tuesday's discussion can be immediately picked up on Wednesday; this is good for continuity.
Concerning the proposed change to a 14-week semester:
Comment [Bernie Shiffman]: The change is problematic for professional visits to Europe that occur in May. We should consider the increased cost of this change as some instructors are hired on an hourly basis.
Comment [from a Classics faculty member]: I share the same concern [as Shiffman expressed]. The change will be difficult to implement as 13-weeks worth of material cannot be spread over 14 weeks so simply.
Response: Most institutions have 14-week semesters.
Comment: The rationale for changing to a 14-week semester seems to be that this is standard. However, if we move to a 14-week semester, more material will be covered in courses, resulting in increased stress. We need a "real" reading period.
Response: Faculty need to respect reading period. Reading period is often compromised by faculty scheduling exams.
Concerning the need to improve the diversity of our student population:
Comment [Jon Bagger]: The physics department (in part under pressure from the NSF) is going out to public schools with programs. Physics needs help in this effort.
Response: We need to increase the pipeline to increase the number of underrepresented minorities available to hire as faculty.
Concerning issues of student life (residential options, social spaces, class spirit/bonding etc.):
Question [Alan Goldman]: Has the Mattin Center been of much help in improving student life issues?
Response: It has been extremely good for the arts, but does not bring together diverse groups of students and help to build the broad community. [These comments were echoed by Susan Boswell.]
Comment: There is a need for exhibition space.
Comment: The fine arts program here at JHU is good, but for print making, students go to the Maryland Institute College of Art. MICA's spring break is different from ours and students are required to vacate the dormitories during the JHU spring break.
Response [Susan Boswell]: The dorm issue is one of safety. We can help students find alternative housing during spring break.
Question: Concerning the lack of good social spaces, are there good examples are other universities?
Response: Yes, virtually anywhere else is better; other universities have interesting bookstores, mail lounges, movies, etc. [George Washington University was mentioned in particular.]
The meeting was adjourned at 4:50 pm.
[Minutes recorded by Ed Scheinerman, firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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