Report suggests ways for improving Letters and Science education

After a year of preparation, suggestions for an overhaul of UC Berkeley undergraduate education, including fewer breadth requirements and an emphasis on improved teaching, were released in a campus report Tuesday.

The L&S Faculty Forum, made up of 25 professors and administrators, submitted its report — which outlines 15 recommendations for changing education in the campus’s College of Letters and Science, such as adding writing classes and developing an academic honor code — 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 developed a concrete plan to fund its suggestions, according to Anthony Cascardi, dean of the division of arts and humanities.

“(The report) is not designed as a budget-cutting or cost-saving measure,” 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 campus’s undergraduate education while also reducing the number of required courses, Cascardi said.

The report recommends forming a new academic honor code to send a “cultural” message about campus ethics in addition to the current Code of Student Conduct, according to Mark Richards, executive dean of the College of Letters and Science. Currently, the campus’s code of conduct covers issues of academic integrity.

According to Richards, the ASUC and Graduate Assembly — the undergraduate and graduate student government bodies — will form a working group on the honor code.

“The honor code serves a different purpose, not as a ‘legal’ statement as in the Code of Conduct, but as a statement of our values and identity in being part of Berkeley,” he said in an email.

The UC Berkeley division of the Academic Senate must vote to approve changes to the breadth requirements.

The report proposes to replace the seven breadth courses with six requirements. These classes would include two “Big Ideas” courses co-taught by faculty from different departments, group biological science and physical science into one “natural science” requirement and replace the international studies requirement with “global studies.”

The global studies requirement seeks to increase cultural understanding in a globalized world through advanced language classes, study abroad or a course on “specific societies, traditions or cultures,” the report states.

Cultural issues have taken center stage on the campus this week, with the formation of “The Coalition” student group in response to the controversial “Increase Diversity Bake Sale.” In addition to opposing the bake sale, the group’s demands include increasing a commitment to cultural scholarship through course requirements.

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

Faculty teaching also would see changes under the report’s suggestions — a “boot camp” for new faculty members in the college 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 considered.