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An Academic Bill of Rights

A New Report Recommends That Research Universities Guarantee a Quality Education for Every Undergraduate Student

April 29, 1998|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

America's research universities may be the envy of the world, but they all too often fail to properly educate their undergraduate students and need "radical reconstruction," according to a new and strikingly critical report.

The report, issued by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, suggests that these universities could improve their educational role by involving undergraduates in research, starting in the freshman year.

The ideal, as outlined in "Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities," would change the university culture that has fostered a long-standing division between research and teaching.

Undergraduates would spend less time taking notes in lecture halls and regurgitating what they know on exams and more time joining with faculty and graduate students to "share an adventure of discovery."

The report, developed over three years by some of the nation's top academics, suggests that students who pay tuition often "get less than their money's worth" from research universities that, the document alleges, are guilty of deceptive advertising.

"Recruiting materials display proudly the world-famous professors, the splendid facilities and the groundbreaking research that goes on within them, but thousands of students graduate without ever seeing the world-famous professors or tasting genuine research," the report says.

The Carnegie study is the most recent in a long line of similar reports. But Morton Owen Schapiro, a USC economist who tracks trends in higher education, says this report may get more attention than its predecessors, if only because it is "more forceful in its criticism. A lot of the criticism has come from outside the academy," he said. "But to have a commission of educators say there's a real problem, that should spur us on."

The 44-page report recommends that research universities adopt an Academic Bill of Rights guaranteeing a quality education for every undergraduate.

To fulfill such a commitment, it outlines a 10-point plan for universities. Among other things, it would:

* Reward faculty with promotions and salary increases for outstanding teaching--instead of just for research--and train the ubiquitous graduate assistants in how to teach.

* Shrink the size of classes and better use technology in instruction.

* Supply a mentor for every student, so that undergraduates can develop "a supportive relationship much like that found between doctoral candidate and advisor."

* Break the lock that academic departments have on budgets, so that universities can encourage more interdisciplinary education.

* Revolutionize the freshman year, so that first-year students are introduced to a broad range of learning rather than consumed by remedial classes to compensate for poor high school preparation.

None of these concepts are new, and indeed, the report highlights programs at various universities that it considers encouraging signs of change.

But few of the innovations have changed the way research institutions do business, the report says, adding, "Universities have opted for cosmetic surgery, taking a nip here and a tuck there, when radical reconstruction is called for."

*

The nation's 125 research universities--including Caltech, USC, Stanford and all of the UC campuses--have a responsibility to emphasize teaching as much as research, according to the report. Although these institutions represent only 3% of colleges and universities, they grant nearly a third of the bachelor's degrees.

"To an overwhelming degree, they have furnished the cultural, intellectual, economic and political leadership of the nation," the report concludes.

*

The report is available on the Internet at http://www.sunysb.edu/boyerreport

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Teaching at Research U. Some programs at research universities spotlighted as positive "signs of change" by the report issued by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching:

Sophomore Dialogues

Stanford

Sophomores who choose to are housed together in student residences and enroll in small-group classes of about 10, led by one professor and two upper-class students. Participants earn one or two academic credits. Examples of topics include "Constitutionalism," "Comparative American Urban Cultures" and "The Process of Discovery in Psychology." Workshops are held in use of university libraries, research opportunities and academic decision-making.

Undergraduate Research

State University of New York at Stony Brook

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