The Student Committee on Undergraduate Education is gearing up to produce the latest edition of the report that brought about the pass/fail option and four-class semesters.
A branch of student government that deals strictly with undergraduate academics, SCUE produces a “white paper” once every five years that details the issues with and possibilities for undergraduate learning at Penn. The next white paper is not due until 2015, but SCUE is already planning for it.
SCUE must make several internal decisions before picking topics to research, but if the past is any indication, the report could usher in significant changes.
Before SCUE took up the fight, it was a requirement for all students to take five classes per semester in order to graduate on time, 1970 College graduate and SCUE alumnus Rona Zevin said.
“What we did was convince the University to change that to four … to allow each course to be more in depth,” Zevin, a former Daily Pennsylvanian staffer, added. Students in the College of Arts and Sciences can now earn a degree with 32 credits, depending on their major.
“I think what mattered was how strongly we put our argument together,” Zevin said.
Stephen Marmon, a 1971 College graduate and 1981 MBA recipient, said that his work on the second-ever white paper effected changes in policy.
Marmon and his co-authors proposed “the intensified major,” which today is recognizable as the individualized major in the College.
Marmon, also a former DP reporter, wrote in support of more cohesiveness between graduate and undergraduate schools — a concept, he said, that is evident today students’ ability to take classes across schools. He said that then-president Martin Meyerson lauded the idea.
“We didn’t want to go as far as Brown, where they had thrown all of the requirements out the window,” he said. “But we wanted some of that freedom.”
Other concepts addressed in past white papers have not been as successful.
The 1985 version, for instance, called for “the admissions selection committee to be expanded to include student representation.” The most recent white paper, printed in 2010, suggested a centralized advising department for students across all undergraduate schools; the suggestion did not yield a change in advising structure.
Still, SCUE will aim to address what its members see as the most pressing topics — such as tapping into the zeitgeist for online education.
“Right now, we’re in the initial brainstorming stages,” said College senior Anand Muthusamy, SCUE’s vice chair. He said that there are several internal decisions to be made before background research can really get underway.
Those choices will be a function of “priority and justification,” something Zevin thinks is important for administrators to take the publication seriously.
“[The faculty] were very responsive to us. They understood what we were trying to do,” she said.
SCUE Chair and College senior Michelle Ho said that the committee will be conducting preliminary research, like sitting down with professors and holding student focus groups, as early as the spring semester.
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