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president john shumaker
John W. Shumaker

MAKING HIGHER EDUCATION MEANINGFUL FOR UNDERGRADUATES

In the ongoing and often discordant discussion of what America's research universities must do to meet the needs of future students, there is general agreement on one issue. It is imperative that we do a better job of making higher education meaningful for undergraduates.

That's the major message of "Reinventing Undergraduate Education," a report published by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which offers a 10-point plan to address issues related to undergraduate education.

The report urges inquiry-based learning, rather than the traditional university system of learning by absorption from lectures and textbooks. That system would be replaced by one that teaches students how to learn by inquiry, or how to find, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate the vast amounts of information available to them in today's society.

The 10 points include starting freshmen in inquiry-based courses, then building upper-division courses from that framework; requiring a major senior research project; emphasizing writing and speaking as part of every course; removing barriers to interdisciplinary learning; creating and using information technology well; educating graduate students to teach; rewarding faculty for good teaching, not just good research; and creating a sense of community among students, faculty, and staff.

The redefinition of undergraduate education is a major objective of the Challenge for Excellence, U of L's academic improvement plan, which reflects many of the principles stated in the Carnegie Foundation report. Our undergraduates-many of whom are Kentuckians-comprise 71.4 percent of the student body. The Challenge will enrich undergraduate education by expanding our Honors program, providing undergraduate research experiences, funding international study opportunities, offering courses taught by senior faculty, and enhancing scholarships to attract outstanding high school graduates.

Research universities are often stereotyped as big, unfriendly places, but many experts agree that they have the potential to enrich undergraduate education in ways no other institutions can. The key is to find innovative and consistent ways to make this happen.

U of L has launched a number of initiatives aimed at creating a more effective learning environment for undergraduates.

We help first-year students get their bearings on campus through a required one-hour campus culture course. In addition, every graduate student who teaches must first attend an in-depth training program in how to teach effectively.

All English department faculty, including senior professors, have agreed to teach English 101 every semester. We plan to extend this model to every department in the College of Arts and Sciences. We are expanding our Honors program to accommodate more undergraduates and provide increased student exposure to faculty research.

A new program will place groups of students together in blocks of classes, giving them the chance to bond and allowing their professors to develop integrated learning plans.

Finally, a new administrative post, associate provost and dean of undergraduate studies, will oversee our undergraduate initiatives and encourage ongoing improvement. Of course, there is a price tag attached to such ambitious programs. Within the scope of the Challenge, we will be spending more than $37 million to enhance our undergraduate and graduate programs, and we believe that the results will be well worth the investment. We are committed to quality undergraduate programs because they are the cornerstone of our success. They serve as a magnet for our students, and the foundation for our excellence.

John W. Shumaker
President