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Senate approves a series of proposals that will alter undergraduate curriculum requirements

STANFORD -- The Faculty Senate approved two recommendations of the Commission on Undergraduate Education to relax distribution requirements and to limit the number of courses that can be taken on a satisfactory or credit option to 36 units.

At the same meeting on June 8, the senate turned back CUE's recommendation to abolish the traditional practice of awarding activity credits toward a bachelor's degree for extracurricular activities such as playing varsity sports or performing in the Stanford Band.

Noting that varsity athletes typically rely on activity courses to ease their academic load during the season, senate members opted on a compromise solution that drops the number of such credits that may count toward the baccalaureate degree from 12 to eight and calls for rigorous review of all one- and two-unit courses to determine whether they should count as academic or activity credits. All activities courses will be offered on a satisfactory/no credit basis.

The curricular changes are set to take effect autumn quarter 1996 and were approved with little debate, with the exception of the distribution requirements proposal, which senate members discussed for nearly two hours.

"We thought it would probably take two years to get CUE's [curriculum] recommendations discussed in the Faculty Senate. We did it all in one year. I think it's quite remarkable actually," senate chair Robert Simoni said in a telephone interview on June 12.

Under the approved plan, distribution requirements will be replaced by "general education" requirements. Students will continue to take three-quarter Culture, Ideas and Values (CIV) course. A requirement in natural sciences, applied science and technology, and mathematics must be fulfilled by three certified courses, of which at least one must be in the physical or biological sciences. A three-quarter course that integrates all three areas also may fulfill the requirements.

Three certified courses will be required in the humanities and social sciences with at least one in each. World cultures, American cultures and gender studies have been combined into a single category. Under the new guidelines, students must complete at least one certified course in two of the three areas.

Classes that count toward a student's major, as long as they are certified, also may satisfy the general education requirements.

Classes that count toward the CIV or the humanities/social sciences requirement may be used to satisfy the culture core/gender studies requirement.

"I was kind of nervous," Simoni said after the meeting. "Everything sort of hinged on getting [the general education requirements] approved."

Simoni was alluding to prior agreements to revisit the language and writing requirements passed in January as well as an advisory resolution passed in March that outlined how CIV should be reviewed once the distribution requirements issue had been settled. The final endorsement of these proposals was delayed because faculty members were concerned that the additional writing and foreign language requirements would impose too much of a burden on students if distribution requirements weren't simplified and reduced.

Had senate members failed to agree on a new distribution requirement plan last week, discussions on all of these topics would have slipped, again, until the fall, Simoni warned his colleagues.

Before the meeting was opened for discussion, President Gerhard Casper urged the senate not to table the vote on the general education requirements.

"Over the last two years, we have garnered much goodwill from our students, parents, prospective students and alumni for our review of undergraduate education," Casper said. "I would be very sorry to see that goodwill squandered and fall victim to an institutional incapacity to make choices."

The senate debate got off to a rocky start when several faculty members and a student representative called to question last- minute changes in the proposal by the senate's Committee on Undergraduate Studies (CUS) to simplify the curriculum.

The heated discussion boiled over from the June 1 meeting, when senate members butted heads over the first CUS plan, which gave students the option of studying a subject in more depth. In addition to the three-quarter CIV requirement, the initial version of the CUS plan allowed students to take three certified courses in the humanities or social sciences; three certified courses in science, engineering or mathematics; plus a gender studies requirement and a requirement in World or American cultures.

The revised CUS proposal presented to the senate last week included recommendations from a meeting on June 1, plus an alternative in the humanities/social sciences category and an alternative in the science/mathematics/engineering category that slightly limited the choices of courses that students could pick in each area.

Critics of the amended version were particularly concerned about the sequential process in which they were being asked to vote. They argued that voting sequentially on each distribution requirement opened up the possibility that the two culture cores and the gender studies requirement could be abolished with little discussion.

Simoni agreed that there was a possibility that the culture and gender requirements could be nixed if faculty members voted no on each category, but he added that final approval of the new plan depended on a roundup vote that was subject to amendment.

Along with the gender requirement, the World cultures and American cultures requirements were carefully thought out over a two-year period, said Spanish and Portuguese Professor Mary Pratt, who argued that senate members had not been given ample time to reconsider the fates of these requirements.

"If the objective [here] is to reopen the question of the validity of specific requirements and notably these three, we should dig in for the long haul of an open debate," Pratt said.

Pratt added that the university committed itself in recent years to courses that are not anchored in or monopolized by European high culture. "There are a great number of faculty and students on this campus for whom the presence of those three requirements in our curriculum is a matter of profound academic and scholarly importance," she said. "For many, they represent a pivotal statement about how this university defines its educational mission."

Stephen D. Krasner, political science, agreed that the university made a strong statement when it adopted these additional requirements. But he added that the statement was off base.

"I think it was the wrong choice, and I think those of us who think it was the wrong choice ought to have the opportunity to vote against it," Krasner said. He said the university should not endorse gender studies above economics or any other analytical method of study by making it a requirement.

Patricia Jones, biological sciences, was quick to step in and make a substitute motion that combined the culture and gender categories, so that they could be considered in tandem rather than separately. Her motion made it less likely that gender studies would be dropped altogether; at the same time, the compromise offers students the ability to opt out of gender studies altogether.

Jones said her alternative provided a pragmatic solution to the culture/gender studies requirement juggernaut. "I don't believe any one of these is more important than any of the others. However, we need to balance the importance of studying these three areas with the recognition that we should not over- prescribe our students' academic programs," Jones said.

Other senate members raised questions about whether gender studies was more of a hindrance than a help. Elisabeth Pate-Cornell, industrial engineering, said she would prefer to see women's studies folded into the rest of the curriculum.

Following Pate-Cornell's comments, psychology Professor Amos Tversky said, "I happen to be a minimalist, but I can live with a requirement in which there is a broad consensus in the institution. I think these requirements are ones where there is not a consensus and I see no reason for requiring it."

Regenia Gagnier, English , protested that some senate members were conflating women's studies and gender studies.

"The mere fact that senators still at this late date can think that gender studies is about women's literature or women's issues shows how all of the work we did . . . has not been acknowledged by this body," Gagnier said. "Gender studies is not about women's issues. It is using gender as an analytic category to talk about many, many different issues and it's a very powerful analytical category."

Representing approximately 20 Academic Council members who could not be present, history Professor Estelle Freedman urged that the senate maintain the gender studies requirement.

"When we see equal numbers of male and female students in all our science courses, equal numbers of male and female faculty in the senate and in the ranks of full professors and [in the ranks of] the administration of the university, and no longer see sexual harassment cases in high numbers as we do now, we might begin to think that we no longer need a gender studies requirement," Freedman said.

Jerry Porras, of the Graduate School of Business, spoke against Jones' substitute motion, because it would make it possible for a student to opt out of gender studies altogether.

But the substitute was welcomed by English Professor George Dekker, who accepted it as a reasonable compromise. "It has the virtue of taking a little bit of the prescription out of the curriculum while at the same time making an educational statement that these are three areas of importance," Dekker said.

After the substitute motion was approved, rules for certification of the general requirements were laid down and a summary vote on the general education requirements was called and passed.

Courses in CIV, American cultures, World cultures and gender studies will be certified by the Committee on Undergraduate Studies. Courses fulfilling these requirements also may be certified by their departments or programs as fulfilling either the humanities or the social sciences general education requirement. Courses in humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, applied science and technology, and mathematics will be certified by the department or program that offers them. Faculty members are allowed to appeal departmental and program decisions regarding course certification to the CUS.


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