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Emphasis on Undergraduates

August 25, 1986

What complaints do California State University faculty members hear from students? The more classes you go to, the less excited you are about learning. You can't find a professor to talk to. They want memorized answers, not original ideas.

A new report from the Cal State academic senate says that there is validity in these and other complaints, and it proposes some answers for serious consideration during Sacramento's review of California's master plan for higher education.

The Cal State faculty looked at its own campuses after several national education organizations had issued critical reports about the status of undergraduate education. Those questions are especially important for the Cal State system because its primary mission is undergraduate education--unlike the University of California, which offers undergraduate and graduate education and is a premier research institution.

The national reports emphasized the need for students to get a broad education, to learn how to think critically and to write and speak effectively. Cal State has endorsed these goals for at least five years, but the faculty report said that students on some campuses are too often simply expected to absorb smaller and smaller bits of information without being able to connect their importance.

To help students create a context for thinking and expressing themselves clearly, the faculty recommended that more analytical writing be required in all classes, not just in English courses. And engineers and other specialists should not be exempt from requirements to take literature and other general courses.

The faculty report said departments should keep their mission, teaching undergraduates, in mind when evaluating candidates for hiring, promotion or tenure. Because not every Cal State professor is a great teacher, the report urged creation of a program to help professors find out more about how college students learn and how best to teach them.

All the stimulating courses and exciting professors in the world won't do much good, however, if students don't know that they exist. That is the job of the academic adviser, but too few professors take that role as seriously as they should. The faculty senate hopes to work with the California State Student Assn. to determine the best way to select and train effective advisers and to outline both student and faculty responsibilities in the advising process.

In the popular perception, the Cal State system is No. 2 in California's higher-education picture. Let's face it: It should not try to outdo UC in what UC does best, but it can accentuate its own positives by making a good undergraduate education better. Its faculty hasn't got all the answers, but it is pointing in the right direction.

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