The Student Committee on Undergraduate Education is Penn's newest proud parent. The chief student academic organization has emerged once again from obscurity with its newest child -- a sweet bundle of ideas born of five years work. The tightly wrapped White Paper has now been passed on to University administrators. The document's fate, however, is far from known. I fear that as a student I will never hear of it again. Right now, a few key administrators have it on the edge of their desks, likely with a Post-it note reminding them to read it. I know I did. It took me two days after I secured a copy to read it. And I did so because I have a profound interest in the academic mission of this University -- because I'm a student, and because I have no idea what that mission is. What are the challenges facing Penn's student body? And who will address these concerns? SCUE is Penn's most active student academic organization. Their body meets regularly, its members sit on University committees and its steering committee works energetically to change policies. At the same time, however, the organization and its work is virtually unknown on College Green. This obscurity, however, is not uncommon when it comes to our academic institutions. Who holds the chief academic office at this University? And whose name appears on that door in College Hall? Only 32 percent of Penn students knew the answer -- Provost Robert Barchi -- when The Daily Pennsylvanian asked in May 2000. Barchi took over the post of provost in February 1999, boldly moving from his quiet Medical School office to a post which demanded an outspoken presence on virtually all matters concerning the University. Immediately, he responded to those demands, as he kicked off his term by engaging undergraduates in a number of discussions about their educational experiences at Penn. From the start, he noted his desire to "strengthen the academic infrastructure" within the University and create a "community of scholars." But since then, Barchi -- along with his counterpart in the president's office -- hasn't been the best at articulating his academic vision. That all seemed to change recently, however, with the creation of the Provost's Lecture Series and the Undergraduate Assembly's Fireside Chats. When I saw that the first chat was to deal with the academic vision of the University, I knew that I had to attend. What I expected to hear was our chief academic official explaining his mission for Penn students. And I further expected to hear students expressing the unfortunate viewpoint that Penn lacks the academic reputation of many of its Ivy League peers. I expected a large crowd of undergraduates at Houston Hall, anxious to know how the provost was going to solve the issues of technology in classrooms and what his plan was to foster community in impersonal college houses. What I got was a panel of students drilling their provost about individualized majors and community activism. I heard thoughts on why professors need to encourage the use of office hours. Worst of all, I found the UA showcasing only the fact that they finally figured out a way to get Barchi out of his office. And ironically, at a discussion dealing with academics, not a single member of SCUE was present. Give the provost and the UA a month, I said, and the second Fireside Chat would improve upon the failings of the first. At that meeting, the group spoke a great deal about stimulating academic discussion on a seemingly apathetic campus. They even proposed that the DP be used for this purpose. My response? Start creating dialogue and then you'll find students involved. And that means SCUE and Barchi need to start coming out the woodwork. If academics aren't to be discussed now -- with the Agenda for Excellence, Barchi's own focus on research initiatives and SCUE's White Paper all taking particularly timely and important places in the University's discourse -- when will they be? Students must make their own educations a focus as well, since even the best efforts of SCUE and the provost would go nowhere without active community involvement. So read the White Paper. And then let's have a series of discussions to advance those themes -- along with SCUE, the provost and the entire student body in full force. Only then can we change the face of learning at Penn.Comments powered by Disqus
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