A ‘best practices’ approach to development of the course entitled

The Contemporary Research University and Student Citizens

Prepared by members of the ‘CU101 Task Force’, July, 2006

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

This document aims to serve all readers interested in the development of the small-scale pilot course ‘The Contemporary Research University and Student Citizens’, colloquially referred to as CU101 or University101, to be offered in the Fall of 2006 to approximately 60 students living in Farrand and Baker residence  halls.  If successful, the longer term plans are to phase in, over a period of years, a course which will serve all incoming first year students. This document provides a brief history of the idea and then provides the intellectual and research base upon which this unique course strategy rests.  It also aims to give the reader a sense of both broad over-view goals and highly specific concrete, measurable student outcomes.  The term ‘best practices’ is employed here to mean that the course goals, topics, readings, pedagogical strategies and assessment plans rely on the best available thinking about current state of knowledge and understanding for how higher education should address the over-arching purpose of this course.  That over-arching purpose can be described in several ways: e.g., (1) to enhance and strengthen the intercultural maturity, the mutual respect and a positive sense of community for UCB students , (2) to improve the campus climate for students by making it more inviting, more welcoming and more supportive of all students who enroll, (3) to help students develop an integrated, exemplary level, of ethical, honorable, student citizenship and civic responsibility, or (4) to help all students to be more successful in their academic and social roles within this research university.

 

A Brief History of the ‘CU101’ Idea

 

As a concept, this course has been discussed for nearly a decade at UCB with support for the idea coming from students, faculty, and professional staff.  These discussions nearly always shared several common themes.  Supporters of the idea pointed out that students who could not successfully negotiate the social, student-life demands at UCB could never successfully negotiate the academic demands.  Personal success in every day student life forms an essential foundation upon which students can essay their primary academic goals.  If, for example, they feel so unwelcome, unwanted, and isolated from their peers that they choose to leave UCB, their academic aspirations leave with them.  A second common theme in these discussions centered on the perceived need for UCB to be more proactive, more intentionally helpful in promoting students’ understanding of  UCB’s expectations, requirements, and general functioning in and out of the classroom.  Past practices of simply assuming students know why they are here, how to be successful here, and have the skills to accomplish all of the tasks inherent in being a successful student have not been sufficient for many students.  Lastly, as the broader societal contexts have changed, the university needs to also change in effective response.  In particular, students in the 21st century will routinely be faced with contexts far more extensive, far more diverse, and far more variant from their own individual experiences than previous generations.  Coming to UCB often abruptly places students in an environment enormously more diverse along religious, cultural, racial, ethnic, political, and ethical dimensions than they have ever experienced or even imagined.  Supporters of the ‘CU101’ concept argue that the university has a serious responsibility to attend to these student needs.

 

Several highly-publicized, very regrettable incidents occurred during the last few years which have jointly provided specific impetus to the idea UCB needs to respond to this perceived responsibility.  These incidents included student deaths, substance abuse, sexual assault, athletic recruiting, hate-crimes of racism, and intolerant behavior regarding differing views of religion, sexual orientation and politics. 

 

Partially in response to these recent, high-visibility incidents, partially in response to external calls for action (e.g. from the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity, 2006; from the campus Chancellor’s Committee on Women, 2006) but mostly in response to the long-standing needs mentioned above, the Provost created and charged a task force to provide recommendations for a program aimed at the over-arching purpose articulated in the introduction above.  That task force began meeting regularly in the Fall of 2006 and continues now.

 

Following wide-ranging discussion of topics, strategies, methodologies, etc., the task force has now generated a syllabus, a reading list, and set of pedagogical strategies to be employed in the phase I, pilot trial in the Fall of 2006.  An assessment plan for this pilot which addresses perceptions of students and teaching faculty as well as measurable outcomes from the experience will be developed. The syllabus reflects a unique, creative application of the relevant literature about ‘best practices’ for the key topics mentioned above and detailed below.  The strategy employs extensive in-class and out-of-class experiences developed by the task force faculty experts in these areas.  The course has received temporary approval from the Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee as an A&S, 2-credit elective for the academic year 2006-2007.  The pilot course will be made available to students enrolled in either Farrand or Baker residential academic programs. 

 

Best Practices From the Relevant Literature

 

For the last three decades, many scholars have pointed out that the changing nature of American universities included ever more diverse student bodies which necessitated explicit attention to that change and its implications.  For an early example see Chickering et al., 1981, The Modern American College: Responding to the New Realities of Divers Students and a Changing Society.  A more recent over-view of this literature, along with specific best practices recommendations, can be found in King and Magolda (2005).  Reinforcing the early recommendations, several authors have stated that the need for this type of education is urgent, locally, nationally and internationally (e.g. Gurin, et al., 2002; Fortune 500 legal brief, 2000).  Gurin et al. stated that institutions of higher education face an urgent need to better prepare students who are inter-culturally competent with skills in ethical decision making which entails multiple cultural perspectives.  The Fortune 500 brief states that industry leaders’ view that students who have had an effective education including understanding intercultural diversity are typically better prepared to understand, collaborate with and learn from people with different cultural backgrounds.  They also demonstrate more creativity, better teamwork skills, and tend to be more effective in their jobs which relate to a diverse array of customers.  The Association of American Colleges and Universities (2002) addressed many of these same issues in the larger context of revolutionizing undergraduate education. In contrast, universities have not adequately responded to this documented need, according to Levine and Cureton (1998).  In fact, they argue that ‘multiculturalism remains the most unresolved issue on campus today.’  These national perspectives coincide well with the views of many UCB faculty, staff, and students; the task force concluded that the case for an effective university response stands as very compelling.

 

There exists a significant body of research work which, in general, argues that these ‘best practice’ efforts succeed to a measurable extent on some important dimensions.  So what responses should be forthcoming?  How can we help students to gain an effective, working knowledge of how they can best fit into this vast university?  How best can we help them learn about ideals, values, and responsibilities of UCB individuals?  How can we assist them in developing the intellectual skills to analyze communities, groups, and organizations so that they can determine rules of group membership, recognize and effectively deal with differing interaction styles, learn specialized behavior or culture codes and expectations, recognize construction and de-construction of barriers and challenges which may be subtle or indirect?  Can we help them recognize the discrepancies which often arise between the behavior of individuals or groups and the beliefs they espouse?  To the extent that we can enhance our students’ knowledge and skills in these areas, we advance their education and strengthen the educational quality of this university.  This quote in the New York Times captures much of the intellectual and educational premises of our effort: "The whole discussion used to be framed around numbers," said Prof. Jeffrey Milem of the University of Maryland, an expert on the racial dynamics of colleges, referring to the earlier efforts to recruit minorities. "Now it's about what kind of educational environment is in place to allow these diverse people to learn from one another."