Undergraduate engine needs overhaul, say some professors

The teaching engine that runs undergraduate education is due for an overhaul, say some University of Washington faculty. They are proposing reforms that would drop several requirements, streamline others and mandate five credits in comparative ethnic studies.

At the May 28 Faculty Senate meeting, Medical Education Professor David Irby presented an outline that will be reviewed over the coming academic year.

Current requirements for graduation are “incredibly complex,” he told the senate, and they contribute to the slow rate of graduation at the UW.

For example, students must take 18 credits of “linked courses” to gain an in-depth knowledge of a specific field. An example might be a three-quarter set of courses such as History 111, 112 and 113.

Often the beginning classes in a linked set are in great demand and overenrolled. That can be “an extraordinary barrier for students. If you miss the entry gate, you are stuck for a year,” Irby warned.

Irby’s proposals would also junk the “quantitative and symbolic reasoning” requirement, known as the QSR, which mandates that students have four credits in either mathematics, logic or statistics courses.

Since these three fields are so diverse, a department should stipulate exactly which type of QSR course is required, rather than having the UW making a blanket requirement, Irby argued.

A new American cultures requirement would compel students to take five credits in a comparative study of cultural diversity. To meet the standards, a course would have to compare at least two of the following five ethnic groups: African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicano and Latino Americans, European Americans, and Native Americans. The primary focus of each course would be on the United States.

The courses should enhance “students’ understanding of, sense of and appreciation for the development and character of contemporary society,” Irby wrote in his report to the senate. “We feel strongly this is an important part of the curriculum for our students,” he said at the meeting. The proposal is patterned after a similar requirement at Cal-Berkeley.

In the spring of 1991 the senate passed an “American cultural pluralism” requirement, only to have it rejected in a campus-wide faculty vote that fall. That proposal was not designed to compare ethnic groups. Instead it mandated five credits of study in “pluralism,” which could have been satisfied by courses on ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual preference or other topics.

The undergraduate reform package will now be reviewed by faculty, students and administrators. A revised draft is scheduled to return to the senate during the Winter Quarter of 1993.