UC Berkeley Academic Senate discusses improving undergraduate experience

Michelle Kim/Staff

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At the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate meeting Thursday, UC Berkeley professors discussed the undergraduate experience and improving student advising.

A panel of faculty members presented on the Berkeley Connect program, improving advising to students and survey data from undergraduates with their thoughts on the UC Berkeley experience.

“We want to talk about what we have to do to strengthen the undergraduate experience at UC Berkeley,” said Elizabeth Deakin, chair of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. “It seems to us that this is a timely topic, because teaching and the broader role of faculty contact with undergraduates will be what we’ll be studying for the next year.”

Panayiotis Papadopoulos, vice chair of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate and a professor of mechanical engineering, presented data on student admissions and enrollment. Undergraduate enrollment has increased by more than 10 percent over the past decade, according to data from Cal Answers.

Both freshman admits and junior transfers are earning their degrees faster, according to data Papadopoulos presented, with the 2012-13 information showing about 7.98 semesters needed for a freshman admit to earn a degree, down from 8.17 semesters about a decade ago. Teaching from faculty on a tenure-track system, however, is on a decline, Papadopoulos said.

“Because of having more students and not more faculty, we end up doing less undergraduate teaching than we used to,” Papadopoulos said.

Maura Nolan, an associate professor of English and director of Berkeley Connect, presented on that program, which puts undergraduates in small groups and pairs them with a graduate student mentor to provide a more intimate learning experience.

The program, which is currently open to students in 10 departments, uses graduate students to create an ongoing relationship between mentors and students to help students get advising on majors and intellectual life, Nolan said.

UC Berkeley School of Law professor Eric Talley noted the multilayered approach used in merit reviews of faculty. Talley said that for a candidate to receive a normal one-step advancement within the UC system, he or she should have a balanced record of research, teaching and service.

“The reason for the multilayered assessment is in large part to sort of true-up people’s impression of how the various types of contributions in research, teaching and service have aggregated over this person’s career and horizontally compared to other individuals,” Talley said.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks also spoke about the university’s budget and said that although the campus’s financial position has stabilized, UC Berkeley still faces financial problems.

“We finally are at the stage where the projected deficits are no longer fading into a future — they’re actually going to affect our capacity to do some of the things that we would like to do,” Dirks said.

Mitchell Handler covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mitchellhandler.