Campus News

Faculty discuss academic rigor at annual symposium

More than 60 junior and senior faculty headed to Unicoi State Park in April to discuss academic rigor in the classroom and beyond at the annual Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium.

Sponsored by the Teaching Academy, the event included a keynote address by Meigs Professor Loch Johnson, an update on the recommendations from the Task Force on General Education and Student Learning and sessions on assessing learning outcomes and understanding the contemporary student.

The group was welcomed by Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Arnett C. Mace Jr., who also hosted a “fireside chat” on Friday evening and provided closing remarks on Saturday. Other presenters included Nelson Hilton, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (formerly the Office of Instructional Support and Development), and Student Government Association leaders Jamie Peper and Matt Suber.

Symposium participants spent much of the time in breakout sessions focused on specific issues, such as linking rigor and learning outcomes and changing the campus culture. Summaries of those ­discussions were shared on the second day of the symposium and will be posted on the Teaching Web site (

The symposium was the 16th in a series that dates back to 1991.

Joe Broder, chair of the symposium planning committee, said at the opening session, “These symposia are not necessarily about finding answers, but continuing to ask relevant and pressing questions. We want to focus on the role and contributions faculty can make in nurturing or stifling the pursuit of academic excellence and creativity.”

Vice Provost Jere Morehead, who co-chaired the Task Force on General Education and Student Learning, reported that many of the task force recommendations-the topic of last year’s symposium-were “on the fast-track for adoption in one form or another.”

These range from institution of a plus-minus grading system as a three-year pilot project to the creation of the Office of Service Learning.

In his keynote address, Johnson said he believed that “most students at UGA want to be challenged and respond positively to faculty who set high standards.”

But he called on faculty and administrators to take steps to enhance the academic climate-from requiring more writing and oral presentations from students to improving classroom facilities to hiring more faculty in order to “restore a reasonable faculty/student ratio that has eroded dramatically in recent years.”

At the post-dinner fireside chat, Mace answered questions about the 2007 fiscal year budget and institutional plans and priorities.

He cautioned that energy and health insurance costs claimed $18 million of the operating budget in the current fiscal year and will continue to rise, and emphasized the continued importance of fundraising to build the university’s endowment. Mace said that increasing the number of faculty, providing merit salary increases and a living wage for lowest-paid staff were among the university’s most critical budget issues.

Responding to a recommendation in one of the group reports presented at the symposium, Mace said in his closing remarks that he supported the idea of creating TEACH (Teaching Enhancement And Challenge) grants to provide seed money for innovative instructional programs.

He called on the group to create implementation strategies for additional ideas generated at the symposium.