The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs discussed the possibility of evaluating all “special academic programs” yesterday, a decision that would expose all of the University’s independent study courses, independent majors, and general studies programs to new scrutiny.
The heightened attention to these courses and general studies programs comes after a series of articles published in The Ann Arbor News, claiming that academic advisers steered student-athletes into independent study courses taught by Psychology Prof. John Hagen. The articles said Hagen graded these courses liberally and required little coursework to earn a passing grade.
The series also claimed that the number of student-athletes enrolled in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts’s Bachelor of General Studies degree increased over the past 10 years after the Division of Kinesiology’s Sport Management program, a major once favored by student-athletes, implemented tougher standards.
Pharmacology Prof. Charles Smith, chair of the SACUA, called for the creation of a task force to evaluate the University’s special programs and all general studies programs offered by different schools or colleges.
The response to Smith’s proposal was mixed among members of SACUA. Biology Prof. John Lehman, the group’s secretary, said such a task force would be a “political hot potato” and would need the backing of the entire Senate Assembly, which is the larger body of University faculty members from which SACUA’s members are elected.
“You always run the risk that somebody is going to stonewall, or close ranks,” Lehman said. “What you have to do is you have to empower whatever task force it is with the full authority of the Senate Assembly, which gives it the ability to call University officers before them and hear their testimony.”
Lehman said that if SACUA did create a task force to evaluate these programs, it would need to carefully choose who worked on the taskforce to ensure that the evaluations would be considered substantive and unbiased.
“If you properly craft the membership in a way that these are perceived as very even-handed people and you give them authority they need, you wind up with some report coming forward that has credibility with the faculty and the community at large,” he said. “If you don’t do that, it’s just going to be regarded as some kind of whitewash.”
Classical Studies Prof. David Potter said that because the Office of the Provost issues guidelines on how independent study courses should be operated, SACUA could evaluate the efficacy of those guidelines in different schools or colleges.
“A reasonable question, a three-part question, is are the Provost’s guidelines functioning?” Potter said. “Do they have colleges responding to them in a way that prevents abuses of the issue, and are the colleges following the guidelines put forth by the Provost?”
Other members of SACUA were hesitant to support Smith’s task force proposal, saying such a group wasn’t necessary because there are already third-party evaluation programs within different schools or colleges.
SACUA’s New Chair
The committee, the executive board of Senate Assembly, which is the main faculty governing body at the University, selected new leadership yesterday.
Classical Studies Prof. David Potter, whose current term as vice-chair ends April 30, won the chairmanship of the committee by a 4-3 margin, replacing Pharmacology Prof. Charles B. Smith.
Engineering Prof. Michael Thouless will replace Potter as vice chair of the committee after a 6-1 victory.