Liberal studies forum reviews task force ideas

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A forum on the future of the Brown curriculum drew about 20 attendees Monday evening.

Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron, Associate Provost and Director of Institutional Diversity Brenda Allen and Undergraduate Council of Students President Brian Becker ’09 led an open forum entitled “Liberal Studies in a New Century.”

The meeting was held in the wake of the release last month of both the final report of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education and a draft of the self-study report for Brown’s accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

The task force report called for a review of every concentration in the next three years, improved advising, a new science resource center and increased resources for international studies, among other recommendations. Becker began the meeting by addressing the audience briefly about the importance of the report.

“I think this is a really important time that does necessitate community involvement,” he said, adding that Brown is “uniquely positioned” to maintain a university-college – focused both on graduate research and undergraduate studies – despite their “wholly different missions.”

Bergeron described the nine recommendations, of 15 contained in the report, that are already being implemented.

She said the University is “poised” to create a new science resource center in the Sciences Library. She said planning for the center will be finished by the end of the year and that it could be complete by the end of 2009.

She also discussed improving preparation for first-years coming from underserved high schools, including the implementation of a week-long program called “Excellence at Brown” before freshman year. This year, the program, which included about 20 students identified during the admissions process, gave them an intensive crash course in academic writing and resources available at Brown.

The task force recommended Brown “reformulate (the writing requirement) so that it makes sense for students,” she said, adding that its implementation is often unclear to students. She said the University commissioned an external review of its writing programs by faculty from Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose report will be delivered shortly.

Bergeron also discussed the creation of the faculty advising fellow program. “We want to find out from students how it’s working and how we can make it better,” she said. “We hope this program will grow and meet the needs of students.”

Allen discussed the role of the self-study in evaluating the University. After the self-study prepared for the NEASC accreditation, “We can feel very good in saying (that) we actually provide an excellent education for our students” she said, adding that the study helps Brown evaluate the impact of the investments it has made to expand its programs.

UCS Student Activities Chair Ryan Lester ’11 asked whether a previously discussed “professional adviser” was still under consideration. The adviser would be a staff member whose job is to advise students who don’t feel connected or supported by their assigned advisor, he said.

Bergeron said there wasn’t a “groundswell of support” for such an adviser, and that she hoped faculty advising fellows would be able to fill part of that need. She also said other options are being considered to improve advising for students in need; for example, she said, her office e-mailed first-years who selected especially difficult course loads to inform them of the academic support resources open to them.

UCS Vice President Michael MacCombie ’11 suggested the University offer mini-courses during January@Brown that could provide intensive versions of introductory courses like ECON 0110, “Principles of Economics,” or CHEM 0100, “Introductory Chemistry,” to help shore up enrollment.

Bergeron replied that the program was never intended as a “mini-semester,” but rather as a time to offer courses different from the normal semester’s.

The forum was sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the College, the Office of the Provost and UCS, and held in List 120.

Both Bergeron and Becker told The Herald they were pleased with the forum.

Becker praised the “interesting and insightful conversation,” adding that it was “unfortunate that so few students came out.”

Bergeron said she thought students had “very good ideas” about the implementation of the task force’s recommendations.

“You don’t have to have a hundred people here,” Bergeron said.

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