A task force charged with examining the undergraduate experience at the University of Georgia got a chance to solicit feedback on its draft report from a group of faculty, administrators and students at an intensive off-campus symposium held in mid-April.
The group of nearly 70 symposium attendees spent a day and a half discussing the report and more than 30 recommendations from the task force, which was convened last fall by Provost Arnett Mace.
Mace asked the task force-chaired by Vice President for Instruction Del Dunn and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Jere Morehead-to do a comprehensive evaluation of undergraduate education at UGA and make recommendations for improvement. In particular, he directed them to explore such questions as whether the intellectual climate is sufficiently rigorous and whether the university’s general education requirements remain innovative and engaging. The task force report is due in June.
“The symposium was an opportunity for the task force to do a reality check and take the measure of our work,” says Dunn. “We received some excellent suggestions.”
The symposium was sponsored by UGA’s Teaching Academy and co-chaired by Joe Broder and Susette Talarico. Wyatt Anderson, former dean of Arts and Sciences, delivered the keynote address; Athens-Clarke County Mayor Heidi Davison and UGA President Michael F. Adams were the lunch and dinner speakers.
“We need to look beyond specific subject matter to ask what makes a truly educated person,” Adams told the group. “We have not asked ourselves often enough about the whole.”
Adams noted that discussions about what students need to learn in order to succeed in the 21st century, regardless of their field of study, are occurring nationally. The Association of American Colleges and Universities earlier this year launched what will be a decade-long campaign to focus public attention on the issue.
Task force members and symposium attendees reviewed a report from a national panel that spent two years analyzing higher education in the United States today. Titled “Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College,” the report calls for a reorganization of undergraduate education to assure its lasting value (www.greaterexpectations.org).
The UGA task force also looked at reports from other institutions that are refocusing their general education requirements, including Harvard and Yale.
Symposium attendees worked in break-out groups with task force members to examine specific aspects of the UGA draft report and related recommendations, then everyone convened for discussion on the second day.
“A measure of the level of interest in these issues was the attendance at the ‘fireside chat’ Dr. Mace hosted after dinner,” says Morehead. “People were still talking well into the evening.”
Teresa O’Neal, a student member of the task force and one of four undergraduates at the symposium, found the discussion lively. “I wondered whether the students would be kind of on the sidelines, but that wasn’t the case,” she says. “We were right in the middle of it.”
Among the recommendations generating the most discussion were proposals to:
- require all UGA schools and colleges to develop and implement department-specific final-year capstone experience programs;
- establish the expectation that graduating students be able to communicate effectively in a second language;
- develop an academic component to orientation that emphasizes the university’s intellectual climate and academic expectations;
- implement an earlier university Curriculum Committee recommendation to develop a plus/minus grading system to better differentiate academic performance.
Faculty and administrators agreed that a key issue is hiring additional faculty members so class size and student-faculty ratios can be lowered.
In closing remarks, Mace asked the task force to categorize its recommendations as to those that can be implemented immediately and those that require approval from University Council or the board of regents. He also asked for estimates on needed funding.