Archive for Saturday, April 25, 1998


April 25, 1998


A new report on undergraduate education indicates research universities have a long way to go to serve all students as well as they deserve.

The top administrator at Kansas University discovered a clever way to ambush freshmen enrolled in English courses.

He teaches their class.

Chancellor Robert Hemenway has a commitment to undergraduate teaching that a schedule packed with meetings couldn't shake. This semester he's in charge of a freshman honors seminar, ``Kansas: A State of Mind.''

``I do it because I believe that senior faculty should be teaching at that level,'' he said Friday while discussing a new report that criticizes the nation's 125 research universities, of which KU is one , for mishandling undergraduate education.

``It means a lot to the students to have a chance to interact with experienced faculty. It enables me, as the chancellor, to stay in touch with students and is a reminder every day I walk into the classroom of what the university is at its essence.''

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching reported research universities devoted too much attention either to graduate students or faculty research. The foundation's experts concluded schools neglected undergraduates, especially freshmen.

``Ironically,'' the report said, ``the first years of university studies, in many ways the most formative of all years, are usually the least satisfactory.''

Hemenway discussed the status of undergraduate education in light of the Carnegie report.

Were you surprised the study said research universities, such as KU, treated undergraduate students as second-class citizens?

``Judging by the news accounts, I think the Carnegie report may be four or five years behind the times. There was a period when there was no question research universities were not paying sufficient attention to undergraduate students. Frankly, I don't think that is the case anymore.''

KU hasn't lost perspective in this regard?

``KU in particular has made very strong efforts to make sure that undergraduate students and the research mission of KU can live together very, very comfortably.''

The report said undergraduates were often subjected to boring classes taught by inexperienced instructors. Is that the case at KU?

``We have made a considerable effort at KU to ensure the quality of instruction, especially at the freshman and sophomore level but also at the whole undergraduate level, is of the highest caliber. We have significantly increased the number of student credit hours being taught by regular faculty at the undergraduate level.''

Carnegie's experts indicated research universities ought to fund more research that enable faculty and undergraduates to work together. Has KU done this?

``When I first came here I think there was only $20,000 being invested in undergraduate research. We raised that to $80,000 last year. My wish, hope and desire is that any undergraduate student who has an interest in doing research with a KU professor, find the money and support (at KU) to enable that to happen.''

Are there dangers for society if major universities fail to inspire their youngest students?

``Every university and college, whether a research university or not, has both an educational obligation as well as a moral obligation to inspire its students. It's deadly serious business that undergraduate students be as turned on by knowledge and learning as they can possibly be.''

Universities were prodded in the report to discontinue remedial instruction. Does KU teach remedial courses?

``There is a remedial mathematics class. I think that's much less than many other universities. You want to make sure that students have a chance to succeed when they take college level work, particularly in math, which is an area where many high schools don't offer a full course of study.''

Do you think all research university administrators ought to teach?

``We have a policy that we teach. I think most administrators do teach.''

Should the goal of faculty be to strike a balance between research and teaching? Or should great researchers do research and great teachers do teaching?

``KU is not a research institute where people only would do research or only deal with graduate students. The situation at KU is this: All faculty understand that they have a responsibility for undergraduate and graduate students.''

Is it useful for organizations to compile this kind of status report on undergraduate education?

``It reminds us that we have to be vigilant in this area. I'm also confident that KU has a pretty exemplary record in its commitment to undergraduate students. That's why we talk about having a student-centered university.''

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is

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