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Archive for Thursday, September 2, 1993

KU SEEKS TO UPGRADE UNDERGRAD EXPERIENCE

September 2, 1993

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Kansas University undergraduate Julie Harris wants to go to war against the university's archaic advising system.

"I had advisers tell me to take certain classes in areas that I already had requirements fulfilled," said Harris, a sociology student from Shawnee. "Students need good advising from the very beginning."

David Shulenburger, vice chancellor for academic affairs, will take a shot at improving academic advising at KU and a myriad of other problems that tarnish undergraduate education.

He plans to appoint a blue-ribbon committee this semester to study ways to improve the experience of freshman and sophomore students.

"As decentralized as this campus is, in making an assessment of the experience, it is easy to lose students," Shulenburger said.

He said the committee likely will issue a report next summer that helps set the undergraduate agenda.

In the interim, KU faculty and students offered ideas for making the university experience for undergraduates more rewarding.

Robert Antonio, Chancellor's Club teaching professor of sociology, said the committee must build upon KU's instructional base.

"There already is a lot of dedication to teaching that you don't find at other major universities," he said. "I'm not trying to say there aren't problems here and that the system can't be improved."

Elizabeth Schultz, a Chancellor's Club teaching professor in English, said the university should focus on developing interdisciplinary, multicultural courses. The classes would examine "mega-issues" affecting the world -- health, environment, population, peace.

She said KU officials need to break down traditional departmental barriers in the undergraduate curriculum.

"As one committed to the development of new perspectives, I think it very important that we hire faculty who are trained to look across disciplines," she said.

David Ambler, vice chancellor for student affairs, said he will be on Shulenburger's committee. He wants to focus on non-classroom aspects of undergraduate life.

"Success in the undergraduate level is affected more often by non-academic factors than it is intellectual capacity or scholarly ability," he said.

Ambler said research indicates students who succeed in college often work part time while in school, live in organized housing and participate in extracurricular activities.

Programs could link these traits, he said. For example, students with a common academic interest could be brought together in one residence hall.

"Would the engineering school want a floor or two of a residence hall exclusively for engineering students?" Ambler asked.

Dennis Brown, assistant dean for undergraduate studies in the School of Fine Arts, said students need stronger academic relationships with full-time faculty.

Young students could benefit from seminar courses that combine teaching, mentoring, and academic and career advising, Brown said.

At the same time, he said, junior and senior students could serve as peer mentors to other students to "interpret the world, show them the ropes."

Ambler said the university's newer students could use more personal counseling.

"We're finding more and more students bring excess emotional baggage with them," he said. "If you come here with a history of some type of abuse -- physical, sexual, alcohol or drugs -- you're going to be starting with a deficit."

Antonio said the university should develop courses with small enrollments that require students to write extensively in their discipline.

"The number of people who can't express themselves in words is a problem," he said.

He said that to make writing courses effective, faculty must be given the time to assess students' work.

Voicing the frustration felt by many faculty, Antonio said instructional budgets were stretched to the breaking point.

The lack of funds had created a situation in which the desire for more research dollars influenced how faculty ordered their academic priorities, he said.

"If people have pressure to get large research grants to keep labs going, that could take away from undergraduate teaching effort," he said.

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