For nearly 40 years, the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education has been giving good advice to Penn's faculty, administration and student body. The particular topics SCUE has addressed have of course changed over the years, but the organization's mission has remained constant: to propose concrete ways and means to improve the educational experience of students in all four undergraduate schools. That remarkable history is itself worth pausing over. As far as I know, nothing quite like this student-initiated, student-led group has existed over such an extended period at any other major university. SCUE's longevity, its robust independence and its record of proven success have made it a uniquely valuable resource. The University owes some of its most distinctive accomplishments to the persistence and imagination of the talented, dedicated students who have stepped forward, from one academic generation to the next, to take on the leadership of SCUE. The 2001 White Paper continues in that long and useful tradition. Organized under six principal headings, the White Paper provides analyses and suggestions that ought to be vigorously discussed and debated by all of us who care about the excellence of our educational programs. The six issues the White Paper explores have also been the subject of discussion among faculty, a convergence that heightens the promise of productive collaboration in the months ahead. The first set of recommendations in the White Paper deals with undergraduate research. Following a strong statement on the value of research for all students, the paper itemizes a set of steps that would enhance undergraduate access to research mentors and facilities. These ideas closely correspond to the emphases that faculty and administrators have also been placing. All four undergraduate schools offer substantial and growing research experiences for their students. And the provost has recently launched the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, which is intended to provide broad-based support for individual and group research projects. Working in tandem with schools and SCUE -- and located prominently near the symbolic center of the campus -- the new center embodies the shared commitment that the White Paper articulates. Another section of the White Paper is devoted to teaching. The specific proposals here include thoughtful observations on a wide range of practices and procedures that would make teaching better, from the furnishing of classrooms, to the role of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants, to the best use of student presentations. At the core of these detailed suggestions is a restatement of the fundamental importance that teaching must have across all the schools of the University. Here, too, the heightened attention that faculty and deans have been paying to teaching in personnel decisions provides solid evidence that excellence in teaching is a shared priority among the University's constituents. Along with its comments on research and teaching, the paper also offers numerous ideas about the importance of technology for contemporary pedagogy, the need for effective and accessible advising and the preceptorials which have become such a success since SCUE devised them just a few years ago. The final section of the White Paper deals with New Student Orientation, another subject on which active cooperation among students, faculty and administration has already led to significant improvement. This past fall, incoming students were the beneficiaries of a much-expanded NSO, one that offered a sharper focus on the University's academic mission, a more spacious introduction to the cultural and artistic opportunities of the University and a concomitant orientation to the history and resources of Philadelphia. Let me conclude by endorsing two themes that pervade this new White Paper, cutting across all the specific sections. First, the document includes numerous concrete examples of what might be called "best practice" -- references to courses and programs that exemplify our values and ambitions. These are strengths on which we can build, and their inclusion in the document salutes the good work of our faculty. Second, the White Paper energetically embraces the place and contribution of graduate students in the education of undergraduates at Penn. SCUE understands the intimate and myriad interconnections between graduate and undergraduate education; our shared task is to use those linkages to improve the educational experience for both cohorts. The faculty and administration look forward to more detailed conversations about the issues raised in the White Paper in the months ahead. For the moment, let me simply congratulate SCUE on another job well done.Comments powered by Disqus
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