Report proposes changes to undergraduate education at UC Berkeley

After a year of preparation, a group of UC Berkeley professors and administrators released a report Tuesday detailing proposed changes to undergraduate education in the College of Letters & Science.

The L&S Faculty Forum submitted its report — which outlines 15 suggestions including changing breadth requirements, developing an academic honor code and reporting grades differently on student transcripts —  to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau Monday for review.

Implementing the forum’s suggestions will cost roughly $4 million to $6 million per year according to the report, with a long-term fundraising goal of an $80 million to $120 million endowment. The group has not yet completed a concrete plan for how to fund its suggestions, according to Anthony Cascardi, dean of arts and humanities.

“(The report) is not designed as a budget cutting or cost-saving measure, and that’s really important,” he said. “A lot of people are going to be wondering, ‘Is this a way that L&S can save money?’ It is not designed for budget cuts or achieving efficiencies for budgetary reasons.”

Rather, the report’s proposals aim to strengthen and focus the requirements students must take while reducing the number of required courses, Cascardi said.

The report proposes to change the structure of current breadth requirements by replacing the seven required courses — including arts and literature, biological science, historical studies, international studies, philosophy and values, social and behavioral sciences and physical science — with six requirements.

These requirements would include two “Big Ideas” courses, arts and humanities, social science, natural science and one global studies requirement to replace the international studies requirement. Students could fulfill the global studies requirement by taking an advanced language, studying abroad or taking an in-depth course on “specific societies, traditions or cultures,” the report states.

“Big Ideas” courses would function as survey courses co-taught by faculty members from different departments on broad themes such as “Language and the Mind” or “Disasters.” The UC Berkeley division of the Academic Senate must vote to approve changes to the breadth requirements. The Course Threads Program, which is run by the Townsend Center for the Humanities, would also be expanded to allow students to structure their breadth requirements around a cohesive theme, such as “Human Rights” or “Visible Language.”

The report also states that the campus should place a higher priority on preparing students for communication and writing in the workplace through additional writing courses and raising the bar for testing out of foreign language and quantitative reasoning skills.

Faculty teaching would see changes under the report’s suggestions — a “boot camp” for new faculty members in Letters & Science would focus on teaching skills, while a mentoring program would match experienced faculty members with new members.

Additionally, the report suggests disclosing average and median course grades along with students’ individual grade reports “so as to better impart the context and meaning of grades at Berkeley” to graduate schools and other entities reviewing transcripts.

Cascardi said he does not foresee backlash from students for the proposed changes to transcripts, since graduate schools reviewing transcripts would have a better understanding of the difficulty of courses. He added that student input on the report from the ASUC will be taken into consideration.

Alisha Azevedo is the lead academics and administration reporter.

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  • This looks like a rather feeble proposal compared to the revamp that UCSC did a few years ago, but then UCSC has always cared more about their undergrads than UCB does.


  • guest

    I need help in mastering course material… and how can i get better study skills?

  • VoiceCryingOutFromWilderness

    higher priority on communication and writing: 
    Yes this is BADLY NEEDED.
    To GSI at Cal is to die a little inside every time one sits down to grade papers.

    All Undergrads, Hear Ye This: the answers to these questions are not found in class.
    Are you here to learn or are you here to coast?
    Are high marks to be awarded for showing up, or for mastery of course material?
    How much will you pay for tuition before it’s worth it to come to class and pay attention?

    Do you have study skills? 
    You need them, but you cannot find them on Amazon or PirateBay…

    Overall the report sounds to be a mixed bag.
    Swapping 7 courses for 6?  What’s the impact of +/-  one course over 4 years?
    “Big Ideas” = PR spin speak = high-minded boondoggle in progress.

    I’m very interested to see how the academic honor code bit plays out,
    pretty sure there is one already but it never gets used. Why not?
    A consequence of conceptualizing students as consumers, entitled to ROI, irrespective of their own efforts.