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Undergraduate Experience Committee Report and Recommendations

March 12, 1998

From: The Manoa Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on The Undergraduate Experience

Kenneth Kipnis (Chair)
Nell Altizer
Peter Crooker
Ross Christensen (Liaison, Student Affairs)
Alex Malahoff (Ex officio)
Peter Manicas
Joe O'Mealy
Ed Porter
David Robb
Virginia Tanji
Scott Thomas
Joel Weiner (Liaison, CAPP)

To: The Manoa Faculty Senate

Subject: Final Report and Recommendations

Last September, the Senate Executive Committee introduced a motion to create an ad hoc committee to review and assess the University's policies and practices affecting admissions and recruitment, the character of campus life, and the quality and integrity of the undergraduate program at Manoa, especially as these affect the freshman and sophomore years. After some discussion, most of which concerned procedural rather than substantive issues, the motion passed by a 25-3 vote with 5 abstentions.

With a one-year life-span, a membership duly approved by the Senate, liaisons to the CAPP and the Student Affairs Committee, and the responsibility to conduct research and issue reports and recommendations to the Senate, the Committee has worked long and hard to complete its task by the spring terfr Initially, in seven 90-minute meetings from October 14 to December 10, we tried to achieve consensus about the problems. We communicated with advisors, program directors, students and others; we reviewed dozens of documents; we argued and argued. Last December, we presented to the Senate our cbnsidered analysis of the problems we had uncovered. And, this semester, in eight 90-minute meetings since January 20, 1998, we continued our reading, consultations and debates, but with the new purpose of drafting recommendations commensurate with those problems.

Throughout, we have tried to make the process as transparent as we could. Ka Leo has carried two stories on our work; Ku Lama, one. Updates have been issued at Senate

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meetings, and at the Fall Congress, and a preliminary report was presented to the Spring Faculty Congress for discussion. At every stage the Committee has been attentive to objections and has repeatedly altered its position to accommodate the many reasonable concerns that were brought to our attention.

The Committee hereby submits to the Manoa Faculty Senate its Report and Recommendations.

At the deepest level, the roots of our perplexity may be in our dual institution identity. Nationally, Manoa is a Carnegie 1 research university, with a full complement of undergraduate and graduate programs, including professional schools. As such, we incorporate national and global perspectives in our academic endeavors. We are organized as academic tribes, in silo-like departmental structures that parallel our national and international disciplinary organizations. We share a responsibility with similar institutions to recruit and train new professionals, replicating, reorganizing, passing along, nurturing, extending our evolving knowledges and crafts. But we cannot afford to forget that we are, as a practical matter, Hawaii's largest state university, making available a higher education to many thousands of better-qualified graduates from local public and private high schools. As such, we are entrusted, constitutionally and legislatively, with the core task of providing a distinctive, excellent undergraduate experience for the children of our families. This too is a weighty responsibility.

These two identities should not be in conflict. The state of Hawaii has historically provided more than twice the funds generated by our research and training grants. Few research universities can thrive without dynamic, attractive undergraduate programs. Accordingly the resources we need to excel as a center for research and graduate education will only be there if we provide a quality undergraduate program for the citizens of this state. But, equally, the best undergraduate programs are those that inspire novices with the excitement that first-rate, front-line researchers know. Some of the best programs today place producing scholars in close proximity to lower-divisional undergraduates. The Committee accepts that to succeed in either of our two constituting tasks, we must find a way to succeed in both.

Last August, 1556 first-time freshmen entered Manoa. While, characteristically, colleges and universities in the US have large freshman classes that diminish in size as students move toward graduation, this is not so for us: Our Senior class is three times larger than our Freshman class. First-time freshmen make up only 13.2% of the undergraduate student body and about 7% of all students. Of new freshmen, 89% come from Hawaii: public high schools like Mililani, McKinley, Moanalua and Pearl City; and private high schools like Kamehameha, Punahou, and Mid-Pacific. We might be well-advised to think of each of these 1400 freshmen as representing a household, a family of voters, a circle of friends, a neighbor's son or daughter.

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If they choose to, freshmen may pay to attend an optional orientation program, but about a quarter do not participate. Although it is widely believed that entering freshmen enjoy a vast smorgasbord of suitable courses, our pre-registration option for continuing students and our senior graduation requirement tend to fill intro-level offerings to capacity before freshmen arrive. But even when they can get in, the courses are characteristically very large, with students having contact with graders, lab assistants and GTAs instead of with faculty. It is notable that almost 50% of our freshmen come from families where neither parent is a college graduate. Thrown into the same courses with the more numerous, more sophisticated, more vocal upperclassmen, freshmen may disappear onto the back benches. To be sure, students who have declared their major have departments that, at least in theory, will look out for them. But undergraduates need not declare until their junior year. The Committee was especially concerned about the others: the academically homeless who are lost and alone on a very foreign academic and social landscape. These are the students who share their bad memories with friends and families and recommend "anything but Manoa" to their peers.

It should not be surprising that many Manoa students complain bitterly about this. One focus-group survey of undergraduate opinion recorded page after page of comments like these:

I went to my first class here in a big auditorium and I knew then I'd just be a number. And that's what I felt like.

And:

It wasn't until this semester (now that I'm almost a senior) that I actually made friends. I was in larger classes and just didn't talk to anybody.

And:

Students here feel unimportant.

It should not be surprising that some high school guidance counselors in Hawaii urge graduating seniors to stay away from Manoa and attend community colleges instead. Their tuitions are lower, they cap classes at 35, and they select and retain faculty on the basis of instructional skill. It should not be surprising that 20% of our entering freshmen fail to show up for their sophomore year. It should not be surprising that 33% of 1996 Manoa undergraduates said they would probably or definitely not choose Manoa if they could start over. (The national norm for this CSEQ survey is 19%.) The Committee spoke with a UH advisor, now pursuing a Ph.D. here, who, years ago, entered Manoa with his friends from high school. Sticking together, the group struggled, earnestly exchanging ideas about how to cope with university education. At the end of their freshman year, he and all his friends -- every one -- had flunked out. We might be well-advised to consider that, perhaps, it was we who had failed them.

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The Committee's findings can be summarized as follows:

At the broadest level, we have divided the components of undergraduate education among our departments. So each autonomous academic tribe delivers its courses, on the lookout for eligible recruits, sequencing offerings primarily to serve its majors. We rarely look to our colleagues in other departments, seeking to integrate academic offerings into something we can all celebrate as a fine education. If Manoa faculty are ever to create a shared academic greeting for incoming freshmen, we must learn to nurture a new multidisciplinary cooperation and collegiality. We must move beyond the uncritically accepted idea that every enrollee has to be the inalienable responsibility of one instructor in one department, the supposition that course-clusters cannot have a team of responsible faculty from an array of academic programs. These assumptions constrain our vision and discourage the very cooperation -- the very discourse -- that can generate an academically-constituted freshman experience. We have to consider and decide what are the basic, distinctive, university-level skills values and understandings that Hawaii's high-school graduates must have from us when they enter our front door. We have to find the best ways to deliver this education, broadly and skillfully. As educators, it is part of our job. It is our distinctive responsibility to the people of this state.

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Although some of us on the Committee still disagree about certain matters, the Committee has nevertheless unanimously endorsed the language in the following seven recom mendations:

ORIENTATION: The University should provide all entering freshmen with a comprehensive orientation experience, without additional fee.

COHORTS, CLUSTERING, CONTACT: Entering first-time freshmen should be organized into learning communities of 15-20 students each. As freshmen now enroll in discrete classes, so each would join a cohort taking the equivalent of approximately or 4 common, clustered, related, introductory-level courses: three during the first semester or four evenly divided over both semesters. Most, if not all, of the courses in each cluster would be core courses so that, on balance, the net effect would be to "frontload" core requirements up toward the freshman year. The Committee is NOT recommending any substantive changes in the core.

It is intended that these course-clusters be exclusively tailored and reserved for freshmen: exceptions may be made in accordance with policies promulgated by the faculty oversight committee (see below). These foundational clustered courses are the means by which our freshmen can develop the university-level skills and understandings that we expect our sophomores to have. To ensure that every freshman gets to know at least one tenured or tenure-stream faculty member, each cohort will have regular and substantial contact with one designated member of the faculty. Additional contact may involve specially assigned graduate teaching assistants and/or upper- divisional "peer mentors" as have been employed in the ACE program. Cohort faculty can expect to do some student advising (they may well be the only faculty who know a freshman's name), and may be the first to identify students with academic problems. Backup referral services would be available to freshmen through cohort faculty.

Courses making up a cluster will be coordinated and, in some cases, combined at the initiative of faculty into a single, cooperatively taught offering. At one end of the spectrum, mutually reinforcing courses coUld be choreographed by the responsible instructors. At the other end, courses might be combined into a single semester 9-hour course or a two-semester 6-hour course (12 hours total). In every instance, faculty shall endeavor to find connections among the fields, to prepare students for more advanced university work, to highlight the different approaches and strategies of our disciplines, and to coordinate participation in co- and extra-curricular advitity as well as other aspects of campus life. It is our hope that, in these foundational classes, we can advance the work of integrating our academic knowledges and skills, both for our students and ourselves.

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Complementing these cohorts, the faculty should strive to develop cohortllearning community experiences for exceptional freshmen: these could involve carefully selected honors students, students with common interests, students who need to take evening classes, students with common interests who might reside in the same dormitory location, etc.

Since new freshmen number only 7% of the student body and since the changes we recommend would affect less than half of the freshman courseload, only about 3% of Manoa's instruction would be affected. Moreover, the effect we intend here is equitably to extend to freshman the seminar experiences and critically important faculty advising services that are the standard fare for our upper-divisional and graduate students.

CREDIT AND RECOGNITION: Faculty should receive appropriate teaching credit commensurate with the additional work required to develop, integrate and teach clustered courses. The University should accord appropriate faculty recognition and rewards for exceptional lower-divisional teaching. Longterm, Manoa must ensure that its internal reward schedule and its metrics for faculty achievement give institutional effect to our expressed commitment to undergraduate instruction.

FEEDBACK TO ADMISSIONS PROCESS: Freshman grades in core courses should be reviewed by admissions staff in order to refine admissions standards and recruitment practices.

FACULTY OVERSIGHT: Appropriate faculty bodies should be employed to encourage, facilitate, review, approve and evaluate all course clusters; to work with the Administration to coordinate and integrate co- and extra-curricular programs into the clusters; and to generate, as needed, standards to ensure that freshmen are adequately prepared for higher-level coursework.

ADMINISTRATIVE COMMITMENT: The Administration should provide funds and resources for special programs -- curricular, and extra-curricular -- for lower-divisional undergraduates. The University should demonstrate its commitment by assigning clear administrative responsibility to an office commensurate with these tasks -- for example, an undergraduate dean. The administration should establish conditions that enable and encourage the coordination and combining of course offerings and provide Educational Improvement Funds for implementation, including summer support as needed.

EXTENSION OF UGE COMMITTEE: Finally, we recommend that the Manoa Faculty Senate extend the life of the Ad Hoc Cornmfttee on the Undergraduate Experience for a second year, to work with the administration, on behalf of the Senate, in the process of implementing and refining these recommendations. There is no expectation that the Committee would have responsibilities beyond the process of implementation.

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We believe our recommendations are feasible and that they will address each of the problems we uncovered and reported to the Senate last year. But we have no Ilusion that the measures we recommend will be a panacea for all our institutional ills. It will take more intelligence, more creativity, and more hard work to give the idea of a Manca undergraduate education the attention it is surely due. The Senate's standing committees, especially CAPP and Student Affairs, will surely play important roles as we move forward. Nonetheless, we have an opportunity here and now to take a decisive step in the direction of responsible change. We can evolve and create a fresh future for ourselves, our students, and higher education in Hawaii. On this day we invite the Senate to make a choice for cooperative, frontloaded, dedicated, foundational, clu core courses during the freshman year; a choice for genuine contact across the cultural gap that separates the first-time freshman from the Manoa research scholar; and a choice for ongoing, multidisciplinary discussion on what our lower-divisional students need from us and how best to provide it.


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