Students join Dirks at fireside chat to discuss ideas around Undergraduate Education Initiative

Andrea Seet/Staff

Related Posts

About 50 students joined Chancellor Nicholas Dirks at the University House on Thursday evening for a fireside chat to challenge and develop potential ideas around the Undergraduate Education Initiative.

In addition to being hosted by Dirks, the student forum was hosted by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele, interim dean of undergraduate studies for the College of Letters and Science Bob Jacobsen and dean of students Joseph Greenwell, all of whom participated in a conversation about the Undergraduate Education Initiative, which aims to enrich the undergraduate experience. During the chat, the administrators addressed students’ concerns about the program’s possibility of a core discipline education and class availability.

Dirks and the other administrators agreed that new students easily get lost on campus because of the high student-to-faculty ratio and may have to fight their way to get through the school’s bureaucracy.

“Just on the other side of alienation and anxiety, however,” Jacobsen said at the forum, “Berkeley can be the richest environment in the world to find yourself and figure out what you want to do in life.”

In an effort to create a common experience for students who are navigating their undergraduate years, Dirks hopes to implement a core curriculum system, similar to the undergraduate initiative he helped develop at Columbia University. Some students, however, questioned the need for the program.

At the forum, UC Berkeley sophomore Daniel Saedi said he felt he was further along in his academic career because of the campus’s less restrictive common curriculum requirement. Although Berkeley has a seven-course breadth requirement, it does not oblige students to take a set of common courses irrespective of their major, a curriculum that other schools such as Columbia University enforce.

Saedi said that because UC Berkeley allowed him freedom in course selection, he now only needs to take two more classes to complete his major.

“If you take the independence away from the start, it might take away from what the Berkeley experience could mean,” Saedi said.

Steele, who worked at Columbia University, agreed with Saedi that independence and self-management are integral components of the Berkeley education but said that a core undergraduate education can unite students.

“While we don’t want to take away that distinctive Berkeley experience, we want to find something that brings us together,” Steele said. “We want to create that core experience.”

Students also raised concerns over how the initiative would help increase course availability, including improving class registration.

At the event, UC Berkeley senior Josh Cohen said there is a “mismatch” between courses that students want and the ones that are available because he felt the university prioritizes what professors want to teach over what students want.

“Students stay four years, while professors stay 40 years,” Cohen said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “(So there is) more incentive to go along with the professors.”

Jacobsen said Tele-BEARS is a fragile system that administrators hope to reform and even replace in the future to help students enroll for classes they want.

Contact Jennifer Kang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @jennikang.