Task Force on General Education
Notes on Meeting of March 10, 2000
Guests from the UCLA College of Letters and Science Provost Brian Copenhaver and Vice Provost Judith Smith addressed the Task Force. (list of invitees and attendees)
The reform of the UCLA GE Program began in January 1994. In 1993-1994, faculty were appointed to a campus level committee to give advice on what needed to be worked on. They had three projects: the scale and delivery of instruction (size of classes, etc), the Phase I GE Committee, and a third that Provost Copenhaver did not recall.
The charge to the Phase I GE Committee was to describe the current state of GE, what were the best practices currently used in similar colleges, and does the GE need to be fixed. They produced a description of GE as it was currently practiced and concluded that it needed to be revised. There was broad agreement on properties of the reformed GE; this is where the values came. Phase I and II were strongly fixated on interdisciplinarity. Three kinds of controversy emerged, two economic and one theological. They were worries about curricular space (especially in science and engineering), and small departments worried about their current standing. The theological problem was what does interdisciplinarity really mean.
GE should be more coherentóone course should have stronger relationships to other courses (sequencing is a good example of this). They should also be simpler in that they are easier to justify and are more intellectual and intelligible with more small group learning involved. There was also a great concern about writing as well as quantitative reasoning. The committee also wanted to see greater involvement by the senior faculty.
The Phase I and II committees were two entirely different committees. The first was made up of six to seven people and although they gained am ore coherent product, they lost some of the buy in. The second group had twelve to fourteen members from the college and professional schools that taught undergraduates. In 1997 a report was produced that opened broad scale discussions throughout the campus. With funding from the Hewlett foundation, the UCLA-Hewlett Forums began. Half of the speakers were prominent faculty or administrators from other campuses and they were able to pick up ideas from these visitors. This raised the awareness on campus of GE.
In 1996-97, Vice Provost Smith was appointed to her position. It was at this time that a long series of discussions had begun with departments and their chairs. These often became very intense.
Vice Provost Smith:
She currently is also responsible for all undergraduate programs that are research based as well as other innovative challenges in undergraduate education. When it came to revising the GE program, the biggest problem seemed to be the budget. They had a student conversion factor that was less than the average of 15 units per quarter (a .9 conversion factor). Cluster units had one more unit. The idea was to have the university generate about $6 million from the state if the cluster courses were used to raise that conversion factor. There was no central budget for GE.
It was difficult to get a total buy in from everyone. The idea was to start small and then prove what the new program could do. There was a GE governance committee instituted that performed this review. There were two components of this review. The Writing would be worked out so that it would be able to help disenfranchised groups. The writing would be intensive but they would be disciplinary based courses. This was new to UCLA and attractive to smaller departments. For every writing course, they would match TAís. For example, if an 80-student philosophy course originally had two TAs with twenty students in each of their two discussions, they would match the TAs by providing two more. They would also provide training for those TAs as well as the faculty. The Faculty were astounded by how much more engaged students were; they were also more attached to the TA. The governance eventually broke up and became more of a watchdog and advisory group.
In a five-year pilot study, the cluster would be tested out. The first call for proposals resulted in 15 submissions; from these, four were chosen to be clusters. Each took approximately one year to develop and they were offered for the first time last year. Eventually, at least half the students will have the option of choosing clusters.
It is critical to have a thorough assessment of the program. Tools for assessment need to be worked out.
The faculty interested in interdisciplinary teaching came from an interdisciplinary research group. Many knew what team teaching was but not interdisciplinary teaching. It is important for them to decide what is important and how they connect. The students need to understand that itís interdisciplinary and that they are required to go to all lectures. The information is integrated and not piecemeal. The first to get it were the TAs since they had to decide how to deal with the material. The best graduate students were chosen (teaching fellows) and one yearís employment was guaranteed. It was very competitive and TAs were given special training. Only freshmen were allowed to enroll, and since 94% of them live on campus, some courses were taught at residence halls. The teaching was very demanding. The cluster coordinator was relieved of teaching for the year. The cost was about $120, -160,000 per cluster. There were lectures with discussion sections during fall and winter and a seminar in the spring. Half of the students in the cluster were honors students and they are not required to stay through the entire program. For 1 one quarter, they get one GE course credit, two quarters, two GE course credits, and for three quarters, they received four GE course credits. This was an added perk. The dropout rate between fall and winter was 12% while there was none for winter to spring. They are currently trying to determine why these students donít stay. It seems as though there is a two-tiered system at the moment with honors students in clusters and non-honors students following the traditional GE program. The faculty find these to be difficult to teach. We engage them for two years and then they return to the department. Each cluster will last about three years since the model demands constant renewal. A staff of academic administrators has been built to work hand in hand with the faculty. A softer version of the cluster, called a couplet, has also been created. [on INT, see also questions by CGJ and UM, below]
You should also be prepared to take on large expenses. It will cost a lot of money and the money will be spent at a rate that is economically and morally expensive. If the project is worthwhile, this needs to be accepted.
Carl Gutierrez-Jones asked what part general recruitment played in selling the idea to the faculty.
BC stated that they are not at that stage of the process yet. A faculty member was appointed to the full-time position of talking to faculty about this, but the position was not extremely successful. There are currently affinity groups of about twelve that are funded that are meant to talk about topics that are interdisciplinary. The idea, however, is not sold to more than half the faculty. They have moved from the hard sell to support.
Armand Kuris asked how the program works across majors, particularly in biology.
JS pointed out that four-year plans are mapped out for various majors in their GE proposal. Clusters offerings currently have two that are science-based and two that are social science and humanities based. 90% of those taking the social science/humanities cluster are in the sciences and 80% of those are in the life sciences. These students can later be asked if taking the cluster has delayed the time for them to get their degree.
David Marshall inquired as to how many students were in each course.
There are currently 120 students in each course based on the number of teaching fellows. Next year, successful ones may be taken to 200. In the new residence hall, a GE teaching auditorium has been designed that can seat 350.
Harold Marcuse asked what were the plans after the pilot ends? Will there still be a two-tier system?
BC pointed out that there are three things that can happen: the clusters can fail, they can succeed in the present mode of having eight to ten optional clusters, or the faculty can buy into it as a requirement. Clusters could also serve as a model for the pre-major.
Sylvia Curtis asked if teaching research skills was still being addressed.
JS answered that it is incorporated into the writing and assignments are given that require students to use the library. In fall and winter, projects are designed so that students use original sources. The budget has also been increased to hire more librarians.
Ursula Mahlendorf asked whether any courses had been created that bridge science with the social sciences and humanities.
They have currently given up on such a task since it was tried in the first year but did not succeed.
Joel Michaelsen inquired as to what extent they have changed the old GE program
Not much has been done yet. The Governance committee merely looks at single courses. The best thing to do may be to look at the program in pieces. This was done with their science requirement.
Tom Carlson asked about the criteria to deal with the quality of instruction and whether these criteria were being met.
A set of criteria for each division was developed in the mid-80ís, and at the moment we cannot reassess what has happened since it has been passed down over time. The Governance committee is thinking of enacting a recall where courses in each area are recalled for reevaluation every five years. The Governance committee looks at all present GE courses and not just clusters.
Al Wyner inquired about the gross cost, where the money was falling, and how much was new money.
The total cost was $900,000 this year with 30% for staff support. There is growth of 10% per year expected. This has not avoided any criticism.
BC and JS closed by saying they would like to have all the UCís get together and talk about this. Money from the Hewlett grant could be taken and smaller scale forums could be done next year as well.