School of Arts and Sciences

2007-08 Undergraduate Curriculum Committee Report

Meeting Dates

Sept. 20, Oct. 9 and 18, Nov. 1 and 29, Jan. 24, Feb. 14 and 28, March 13 and 27, April 17, May 1.

Members of the Committee

Richard Alterman (fall ‘07), Debra Booth, Mitch Cherniack, Joseph Cunningham, Stephen Dowden, Sylvia Fishman, Gregory Freeze, George Hall, Adam Jaffe, Oleg Ozerov, Zach Pyle, Adi Shmuel, Jacquelyn E.C. Sholes, Julia Simon-Mishel. Ex Officio: Kim Godsoe, Mark Hewitt, Elaine Wong.

Sections in This Report

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Possible 2007-08 Agenda Items

Among the topics to be discussed by the UCC in 2007-08 are “Auditing” policies and procedures; the role of the UCC in reviewing departmental majors; course listings in theBrandeis University Bulletin and “Course Schedule”; continued discussion of Brandeis's liberal arts mission and goals; reports from the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs on Biological Physics, Business, Film Studies, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, and Social Justice and Social Policy; and reports on newly approved Independent Interdisciplinary Majors.

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Procedures for Conduct of UCC Meetings

Dean Jaffe and committee members reviewed the procedures for the conduct of meetings.

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Approval of 2006-2007 UCC Report

UCC members approved the 2006-2007 report, which will be posted online.

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Appointment of Subcommittee for Independent Interdisciplinary Majors

Debra Booth and George Hall volunteered to serve on the UCC’s Subcommittee for Independent Interdisciplinary Majors.

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Proposal for a New Major in Education Studies

Marya Levenson, Professor and Director of the Education Program; Michael Coiner, Associate Professor of Economics; and Jeremy Heyman ‘08, Etta King ‘10, and Alison Schwartzbaum ’08 presented a proposal for a new major in Education Studies, which was submitted by 12 faculty from eight departments or programs.  Brandeis has for many years offered a teacher certification program. Several years ago, Professor Levenson introduced a course in “Education and Social Policy”, which annually enrolls about 30 students, and became the core course for a minor in Education Studies. The new Education Studies major would have nine courses: “Education and Social Policy” and a second core course focusing on education from the perspective of a foundational discipline, such as philosophy, sociology, economics or history; one course from a group labeled “Schooling, Policy and Society” or a group labeled “Human Development, Learning, and/or Teaching,” and three courses from the other group; two other elective courses; and a senior capstone seminar focusing on research in education. Students pursuing honors would first have to complete an additional research course and then a tenth 99b course.

Heyman, King, and Schwartzbaum expressed their strong support for the new major. Students at Brandeis have demonstrated their passion for education through high participation levels in such programs as Teach for America, and Americorps. The proposed major was praised for its interdisciplinarity, emphasis on research, experiential learning, and focus on acquisition of critical thinking and inquiry skills. A UCC member asked if there were logistical limits on the senior seminar. It’s unlikely that the number of majors will exceed seminar spaces in any given year. Another member asked about courses on technology in education or cognitive skill acquisition, which are not currently offered, though course options provide some coverage of these topics. Will students who major in Education Studies be qualified for graduate education or the jobs they will seek? Because of certification rules, this major is not the best option for students who want to become teachers. However, students would be prepared to go into a variety of fields, including educational administration, public policy, counseling, and politics, though most would probably eventually pursue Masters degrees. Committee members asked that students be advised on the right preparation for each of these fields.  What are the resource implications of offering this new major? The only new course is the capstone seminar, which would be offered for the first time in the fall of 2008. In five years time, the faculty would like to offer a new educational research course.

Members of the UCC approved a motion, pending School of Social Sciences approval, to establish a new major in Education Studies for a period of five years, at which time the UCC will also review the Education Studies minor and Education (teacher certification) minor.

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Approval of New Off Campus Study Programs

In the fall, J. Scott Van Der Meid, Director of Study Abroad, discussed the criteria for new program approval (academic credentials, program duration and credit hours, language requirements, student services, course offerings, faculty and peer institutional support) before committee members granted provisional approval to the programs at Boston University: Guatemala Archaeology Program, in Guatemala; IFSA-Butler: Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru in Lima, Peru; and Columbia College: Second City Comedy Studies Program in Chicago, Illinois. In the spring, the UCC approved the following programs: Institute for the International Education of Students (IES): Delhi University and Jawaharal Nehru University in Delhi, India; Institute for the International Education of Students (IES): Universita degli Studi de Siena in Siena, Italy; CIEE: Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Lisbon, Portugal; and Rutgers’ Conservatory at Shakespeare’s Globe (Stage Management) in London, England.

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Report from the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs: Biological Physics

UCC members reviewed reports by the chair of Biological Physics and the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs before approving a motion to continue the Biological Physics program for a period of five years. The review committee met separately with core program faculty and with majors, who were enthusiastic about student research opportunities and their close personal interaction with program faculty. The committee’s report recommended that contributing departments establish  a more regular rotation of program electives and that the Admissions Office alert applicants with science interests to this unique undergraduate program.

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“Auditing” Policy and Procedures

A proposal to list audited courses on Brandeis transcripts was initiated by 2006-07 undergraduate representatives of the UCC in the context of pass/fail and liberal arts learning discussions. The UCC reviewed data prepared by the University Registrar on auditing policies of other AAU institutions. More than half of reporting institutions allow undergraduates to officially audit courses. Brandeis’s current policy is that undergraduates may ask faculty for permission to audit courses, but participation is not recorded on transcripts. Student representatives of the UCC believe that those who wish to audit courses are interested in expanding their intellectual horizons and exploring courses and topics they wouldn’t otherwise have the time to complete. In their opinions, audited courses would most likely not be in a student’s major, and might be taken as a fifth course, or a fourth course by a student completing a senior thesis. Would a new policy increase pressure on students to enroll in audited courses?  Students think it might reduce pass/fail enrollments.

Faculty noted that graduate programs and employers are not necessarily impressed by audited courses. Both pass/fail courses and audited courses are often discounted by graduate admissions committees, which ask why students did not complete the courses for graded credit. While faculty believe that students can benefit and learn from audited courses, they don’t understand why such participation must be recorded on a transcript. Faculty also noted that students who ask permission to audit courses do not always “stay the course.” Students may be more psychologically motivated to complete a course if they know that it will be listed on a transcript.

Student representatives suggested that in any case Bulletin information about auditing might be expanded to better inform students about options, advantages, and disadvantages related to auditing a course. Information about the auditing policy might also be included on the form used to declare the pass/fail grading option.

A straw poll indicated that the committee was divided on changing the current auditing policy. Before making a final decision, the Registrar’s office was asked to contact comparable institutions such as Harvard, Penn, Brown and MIT to obtain their catalog text and rationale for current policies.

After a meeting of UCC student representatives with staff from the Offices of the Registrar and Dean of Arts and Sciences to discuss issues related to implementing a new policy, the UCC agreed not to pursue changes in auditing policy and procedures, but to instead revise the text describing auditing practice in the Brandeis University Bulletin. Committee members reviewed the new Bulletin text, which will now be located directly after the  “Pass/Fail Option” section. The new text states:

“While there is no formal audit status for undergraduates, students wishing to audit a class informally may contact the instructor directly to obtain permission to attend the class. Permission to audit a course is at the discretion of the instructor, who may impose requirements for auditors such as regular attendance and course readings. In general, auditors do not participate in group work, examinations or writing assignments. In all cases auditors must reach an agreement with the instructor as to the level and type of participation the auditor will have in the class.”

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The Role of the UCC in Reviewing Departmental Majors

The UCC has a process by which it regularly reviews interdepartmental programs, but the university does not have a process or schedule for review of departmental majors. Some departments periodically review their curriculum, bringing proposed changes to the School Council and UCC for approval, but the requirements of other majors have not changed in 25 years. Should departmental majors be reviewed in a manner similar to or different from the way in which interdepartmental programs are reviewed by the UCC? That is, should a review include a self-study by the chair, meetings with students and faculty, and a report written by an internal university committee, which would make recommendations on curricular coherence, frequency of course offerings, etc.

Should the School Council become the review committee, or should faculty from outside the university participate in these reviews? In the last six years, the university has conducted at least nine external reviews of departments, which look not only at the major, minor and graduate program, but also courses for non-majors, facilities, proposed faculty appointments, scholarly reputation, administrative staffing and support, etc. The undergraduate curriculum is not usually the main subject of external review reports.

A departmental curricular review would probably focus on requirements for the major and minor, and the range of courses offered for undergraduates. The requirements for graduate degrees would probably not be reviewed, but the way in which graduate courses interact with undergraduate courses might be taken into account. Other possible topics are learning objectives and curricular issues that cut across departments. How does the departmental curriculum contribute to and intersect with that of other departments? What are the interdisciplinary connections? Have cross-departmental funding opportunities been considered?

Other questions asked by the committee include: How should the review committee be constituted? Would it be sufficient to have one external member of the committee? Should the department compare its curriculum to that of other institutions? Should there be a member of the UCC and the School Council on every review committee?  Would reviews surface divisions within a department? Should each department be charged with suggesting its own review process (that is, inclusion of external members or not), as long as the findings were sent to the UCC? Would students feel comfortable sharing their feelings about the curriculum with instructors in their own major? Should Undergraduate Departmental Representatives (UDRs) be asked to file their own report? Should the department chair gather input from graduate Teaching Fellows? Should review of the senior survey or other date sources be included in all reviews?

NEASC, our accrediting agency, has asked Brandeis to develop a structure for departmental reviews. UCC members generally agreed that a regular schedule of departmental reviews, focusing primarily on the undergraduate curriculum and major/minor requirements, would be useful, in part because it encourages departmental self-examination. The UCC might be able to act on a maximum of four such reviews a year. The next step will be to decide on scaffolding to support the review process.

The UCC continued its discussion of departmental curricular reviews by reviewing and revising a possible process, drafted by the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. Committee members asked how and when such a process might be implemented. It is possible that departmental curricular reviews might begin as early as next year, and that each major might be reviewed every 8 to 12 years. Potential changes to major/minor requirements, triggered by the review, would still have to be approved by the UCC and School Council. The first reviews might be scheduled on a voluntary basis, or based on other consideration such as senior survey data.

Dean Jaffe later reported on the response of department chairs to the UCC proposal for systematic departmental curricular reviews. Some chairs expressed skepticism about the need for such reviews and trepidation about the amount of work involved, but others saw value in articulating departmental learning objectives and considering how to test the curriculum against these objectives. Dean Jaffe expects to pilot curricular reviews with a few departments next year to evaluate the workload involved and the utility of the process. What is learned from this concrete experience will then be shared with the UCC and other departments.

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Changes to the History Major

Paul Jankowski and William Kapelle of the history department presented a proposal to strengthen the requirements of the history major, without undermining its flexibility. The proposal would increase the total number of courses from eight to nine, and require students to complete: 1. at least one course in history before 1800 and one in history after 1800; and 2. at least one course in US, one in European, and one in non-Western history. In addition, at least one course, normally completed in the sophomore or junior year, would require a substantial research paper. Students would be allowed to double- or triple-count courses towards these requirements.

Were history majors consulted on the new model? Students have reported in the university’s senior survey that they feel the major lacks adequate structure. The history major was reduced to eight courses more than 25 years ago when UHIST, a general education Western civilization history course, was established as a degree requirement. When the requirement was discontinued, the total number of courses was not readjusted. History is the only major that does not now require either a core course or some sort of distribution. A study in 2004 found that the average number of history courses completed by majors approximated nine, including cross-listed and transfer credits.

Committee members asked for the definition of a substantial research paper (a minimum of ten pages, utilizing primary sources). About a third to a half of history courses probably qualify for this requirement. Are there clear distinctions regarding what a course would count for? The UCC believes that a single course should be able to count toward either the European or American distribution, but that students should count it toward only one of these requirements and not two at the same time. Any one of the three area courses, however, should be able to double count for the pre or post 1800 distribution and/or the research paper requirement.

While the UCC was supportive of the proposed changes, before taking final action it asked the department to provide Bulletin text, which makes clear that a single course would not be allowed to count for each of the geographical and chronological requirements at the same time. The Registrar’s office will eventually want the department to provide a list of courses that would count for each category (including research and pre and post 1800) to post in the course schedule and Bulletin, and use for an automated degree audit. Committee members asked the department to gather feedback on the proposed changes from history UDRs, even though the new requirements will only affect students who enter Brandeis in the fall of 2008.

After receiving and reviewing revised Bulletin text from the department, the UCC approved the proposed changes in the requirements for the history major at its next meeting.

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Course Listings in the Brandeis University Bulletin and “Course Schedule”

How can students find courses of interest to them (e.g. courses on disability), which are not linked to majors or minors, or cross-listed or flagged in any other way? The Bulletin has a category called “Courses of Related Interest,” which most departments do not utilize. This category also pertains only to departmental or program linkages and not to “course to course” linkings or relationships. (For example: if you liked this course, you may be interested in this other course.) The Registrar noted that the Peoplesoft system is being upgraded, with better display and search capability expected to go live in November of 2008. What information would students and faculty want to have included in “sage”? One committee member suggested that the university might wish to consider new open source tagging systems such as Flickr which are not constrained by “sage.” Students might pilot a new site which would allow them to search for courses that involve “education and technology” or “art, economics and the 20th century.”

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Report from the Subcommittee on Independent Interdisciplinary Majors: Approved Majors

In the fall, Jennifer Kim, Advisor to the Sophomore Class and Coordinator of Independent Interdisciplinary Majors, reported on three IIMs that were approved by the UCC’s Subcommittee on Independent Interdisciplinary Majors: “Visual Culture” for Thomas Ahn ’09, “Education and Child Studies” for Lauren Schneider ’08, and “History of Ideas” for Benjamin Mernick ’09.

In the spring, the UCC received a report from the Subcommittee about the following approved petitions for new IIMs: “Communication and Media Studies” for Saul Levy ’10;  “Religious Studies” for Max Lewis ’09, “Comparative Media Studies” for Olivia Lin ‘10, “Forensic Psychology” for Dana Opas ’10, and “Mass Media Studies” for Bradley Stern ’10.

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Report from the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs: Business

The UCC reviewed reports by the chair of the Business program and the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs before approving a motion to continue the Business program for a period of seven years. As in all reviews, the standing committee met separately with core program faculty and with students enrolled in the program. All parties expressed satisfaction with the minor, which graduates 80-90 students each year; however, students shared their desire for more business and finance courses and a more pre-professional emphasis, while program faculty were most enthusiastic about the liberal arts perspectives of the minor.

UCC student representatives commented on the need for more internship or experiential learning opportunities in the program, perhaps achieved through an alliance with the Hiatt Career Center. The dean was asked to encourage program faculty to address the different expectations of students and faculty.

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Review of the Eight-Credit Limit on Internships

Mark Hewitt, University Registrar, presented data on undergraduate internship enrollments from 2000 to the present. University policy allows students to count up to eight credits of internship courses toward graduation. If an international student wishes to pursue an internship in the summer, according to INS rules s/he must be enrolled in a credit bearing course that counts toward graduation. Most such students enroll in a 92g, the only one credit course at Brandeis. The issue of internship credit limits was brought to the attention of the UCC because of the case of an international student recently denied permission to enroll in a spring continuation of a 93a research internship, after having completed a one credit 92g in the summer of ‘07 and a four credit 93a research internship in the fall of ‘07.

The eight credit cap exists primarily so that students will complete at least 30 other Brandeis academic courses.  The UCC supported the concept of a limit on the number of internship credits counting toward the degree, but not a prohibition on student enrollment and completion of more than eight credits of internships. Internships may be the only academic component of a Brandeis education for which students are prevented from taking as many credits/courses as they would like, excepting University Seminars which are limited due to resources. After completing the writing-intensive, foreign language or quantitative reasoning requirement, students are not barred from taking additional courses in each category.

After exploring various options (e.g., raising the cap to ten credits, not counting summer school internship courses toward the eight credits), the UCC decided to allow students to petition for exceptions to the eight credit limit. Students whose petitions are granted will be required to sign a form confirming their understanding that all internship credits and courses beyond eight may be completed “for purpose” and for inclusion on the transcript, but will not count toward the 32 courses required for graduation. Faculty and staff involved in internship courses will be informed of this new petitioning process. The UCC will continue to monitor internship enrollments and the petitioning process in the next few years.

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Enhancing Social Justice in the Brandeis Curriculum

UCC student representatives opened this discussion by asking: How is Brandeis’s commitment to social justice or social action embodied in the curriculum? What are faculty perspectives on these topics? What opportunities are there to apply what is learned in the classroom to better the community?

UCC faculty representatives talked about ways in which they believe their courses address issues or develop skills or points of view related to social justice. Students learn the tools of analysis for thinking about these issues, and what policies are supportive or detrimental to economic growth, but the professor does not advocate for “the way to vote” or careers to choose. In another department, students develop “empathy muscles” by looking at different subgroups and learning how differently they interpret and experience the world. In the clinical psychology practicum course and some internship courses, students provide real service to community members, while gaining support for their work by reading relevant materials in class. Some students choose senior honors thesis topics to acquire knowledge about policies to correct social inequities. Many faculty teach concepts of social justice rather than formulas for social action. One faculty member stated that his department as a whole does not consider its curriculum as a location for advocacy for social justice or social action. In a Macroeconomics course, students compare differences in the United States and other parts of the world regarding life expectancies (80 versus 45 years) and household incomes ($75,000 versus $365 per year).

How much of Brandeis’s commitment to social justice can be met through extracurricular activities? Some students spend as much as 20 hours per week on activism, but it’s easier to participate when activities are located in the curriculum, and faculty can provide a supportive network. Students expressed enthusiasm for Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) courses, which provide opportunities to integrate social action with curricular work. Some students are drawn to Brandeis because of its stated commitment to social justice, but wish to see more concrete opportunities in the curriculum. Are there “enough” CEL courses to meet demand? How much do faculty and students know about existing CEL initiatives? Some students discover CEL courses by accident and don’t know how to find other similar courses. Faculty and students are learning about these activities by word of mouth. Most UCC members support expansion and better identification of CEL opportunities, but would not want to require students to complete CEL courses against their will, because CEL participants must be motivated and committed to do a good job in serving the community.

The UCC student representatives proposed that new Brandeis University Bulletin text be drafted to inform students and faculty about Community-Engaged Learning opportunities at the university. The students also suggested topics (curriculum, advising, sense of community) that might be considered by the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs as it completes its review of the Social Justice and Social Policy program. The possibility of creating a new undergraduate certificate in Community-Engaged Learning, consisting of several CEL courses, but not forming an interdisciplinary program, was also discussed. Although Brandeis offers several certificate programs for post-baccalaureate students (e.g., studio art, computer science, pre-medical studies), there are currently no undergraduate certificates, and a new initiative such as this would have to be approved by the faculty.

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Changing the “First Drop Date” Deadline by One Week  

Susan Parker, Associate Professor of Mathematics, was invited to discuss a proposal to change the first drop deadline (which enables students to drop courses without a “W” notation) from the 25th to the 30th day of instruction. Although faculty are encouraged to provide feedback to students (e.g., at least one graded exercise) before the first drop deadline, this doesn’t always occur for several reasons: 1. sufficient material must be covered before a first exam, 2. instructors must grade and return exams before the drop date, 3. exams the day before or after Jewish holidays are usually avoided, and 4. faculty in overlapping courses try not to schedule multiple exams in the same week. For example, Parker, who leads MATH 10 sections enrolling about 240 students each fall, coordinates the scheduling of exams with the instructors of CHEM 11a (enrolling about 160 students) and ECON 2a (enrolling about 340 students), but in some years finds it impossible to avoid scheduling exams in these courses on successive days. About 15-20% of students enroll in both MATH 10 and ECON2a, and about 30% in both CHEM and MATH.

After identifying no counter arguments to this change, the UCC approved a motion to move the first drop deadline to the 30th day of instruction, effective in AY 2008-2009. The final drop deadline (which notes course enrollment with a “W”) will continue to be the 50th day of instruction.

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Proposal for Summer Study Abroad

UCC members discussed a proposal from students, in collaboration with the Office of Academic Services, to allow summer study abroad to count not only for purpose credit (the current policy), but also for nonresident numeric credits (that is, the maximum of 16 course credits from such sources as AP and IB exams and Brandeis summer school that students may count toward graduation in addition to seven semesters of residency at Brandeis). The proposal would thus provide one other source of nonresident numeric credit. Summer study abroad would not be equivalent to a semester of study abroad, since no more than three courses per summer can be accepted for summer school credit. Summer study abroad courses are currently approved in the same manner as other summer school courses.

UCC members asked why the university should count this summer school experience for residency and not summer school courses from other institutions. The new policy would enable students to apply for loans for summer study abroad, although Brandeis financial aid grants are not available for any summer program. Brandeis does not offer its own study abroad programs during the summer or academic year. Around 90 students pursue summer school abroad, and about 40 now apply for their courses to count toward purpose credit. Most students enroll in only one to two such courses per summer. While almost 40% of the junior class is studying abroad this year, some students involved in on-campus leadership positions are only able to study abroad during the summer. Summer study abroad used to count toward residency before the current residency requirement was initiated.

The UCC approved the proposal to count summer study abroad programs toward nonresident numeric credit.

At another meeting, J. Scott Van Der Meid, Director of Study Abroad, returned to the UCC to ask that summer study abroad programs be approved in the same manner that other study abroad programs are approved. Committee members agreed that summer programs offered by already approved providers would not need additional approval. New programs will be brought to the UCC, or a subcommittee of the UCC, and require the same criteria and standards established for academic year programs. Nonresident numeric credit and the new list of summer study abroad programs will go into effect in the summer of 2009.

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Attendance Guidelines

Kim Godsoe, Dean of Academic Services, introduced possible guidelines on class attendance that she and her staff believe would be useful to both students and their families in cases of emergency. The guidelines discuss recommended attendance of all classes, and provide counsel on missed single or multiple class sessions, and emergency absence from class. UCC members discussed the correlation between class attendance and classroom success, noted that students may not be able to withdraw from classes after the 50th day of instruction without petitioning the Committee on Academic Standing, and suggested that the guidelines distinguish between students who miss classes because of illness/emergency and those who repeatedly “cut” classes because of personal choice. Brandeis University Bulletin, will be considered at a future UCC meeting in the fall of 2008.

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Modification of Rules for Probation

In response to student concerns that Brandeis’s standards for academic probation are more stringent than those at comparable institutions, the Dean established an ad hoc committee consisting of faculty, staff and students to review this issue. The committee found that Brandeis’s standards are indeed on the more severe end of the continuum and proposed changes, endorsed by the Committee on Academic Standing. One change would place students with one D and a GPA of 2.000 or better on advising alert instead of probation. Students who are now in good standing with a cumulative GPA below 2.2 would also be placed on advising alert, a status which is considered good academic standing, but serves as an indicator to students that they are not performing at the academic level expected by the university. The UCC approved this modification of the rules for probation and advising alert, which were later approved at Faculty Meetings.

The ad hoc committee also proposed changes regarding notification about academic status. A student with one unsatisfactory grade will have the choice of meeting with his or her class advisor, or if he or she does not, his/her parents will be notified of his/her academic standing. A student with two or more unsatisfactory grades who is placed on probation will have his/her parents notified after one week, thus providing the student with time to personally inform parents about the probationary status. The student’s academic advisor will also be notified of a student’s academic standing, but not his/her course instructors.

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Report from Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs: Film Studies

The UCC discussed the reports of the chair of Film Studies and the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs before approving a motion to continue the Film Studies program for a period of five years. The review committee commented on the vibrancy and commitment of the faculty, the strong leadership of program chair Alice Kelikian, and the enthusiasm of students for the minor, which is now at its largest enrollment ever. One concern of the review committee is the curricular gap in American Studies film courses.

The standing committee also endorsed the preference of program faculty and students for more production-oriented courses now that LTS staff are able to provide more support, and equipment costs are no longer prohibitive. These courses enable students to understand film more thoroughly by gaining first-hand knowledge of how films are made.

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Report from Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs: Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies

The UCC also reviewed the reports of the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs and the chair of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies before deciding to invite the program chair and other faculty connected to the program to a future UCC meeting. Topics that the committee would like to discuss with program faculty include student advising, course availability, senior thesis supervision, curriculum planning, and communication amongst faculty participating in the program, including those affiliated with the Crown Center and Schusterman Center.

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Proposed Changes to the English Curriculum

Paul Morrison, Sue Lanser and Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman of the English Department presented a proposal for changes to the curriculum of the English major, and to the name of the department and major (from English and American Literature to English-Language Literatures and Cultures). Memoranda from the undergraduate advising head (UAH) and undergraduate departmental representatives (UDRs) were also distributed.

The motivation for this curricular reform arose two years ago after faculty examination of senior survey data, and a 2006-07 survey with UDRs. The data revealed that students in the major were very satisfied with their courses, but did not feel that the curriculum was progressive, cumulative, and coherent. Students also did not judge the major to be intellectually challenging and rigorous.

The current major requirements include nine courses: ENG 11a “Introduction to Literary Methods”; three courses focusing on literature before 1850; one course in world literature; and four elective courses. The new major would raise the total number of required courses to ten: a new gateway course, ENG 1a “Reading Literature”; two courses in literature pre-1800; two courses in literature post-1800; two courses from the following three categories: literary theory, media/film, and multicultural studies/world literature in English; and three elective courses. Two of the ten courses must be at the 100 level (with such prerequisites as ENG 1a), but could double count for other requirements.

The new curriculum and name reflect the changing nature of the discipline while confirming and strengthening the department’s commitment to traditional literary studies. Analysis of majors’ transcripts revealed that many undergraduates were satisfying their post-1850 requirements with non-literary courses (in film or popular culture); the new requirements mandate two post-1800 courses in literature. The same analysis showed that many students were satisfying their pre-1850 requirements with 19th century courses, and thus the date of the historical divide was changed from 1850 to 1800.

The new writing-intensive core course, ENG 1a, would be taught every semester, and designed to introduce students to skills and concepts needed for the study of Anglophone literature and culture, including close reading, identification and differentiation of major literary styles and periods, knowledge of basic critical terms, and definition of genres. Readings for the course will represent at least three national, ethnic, or regional Anglophone literatures, from a minimum of three different historical periods including at least one pre-1800 period, and also include at least one work from each of the following genres: novel, short story, long poem or collection of lyrics, play, film, literary essay or non-fiction prose.

ENG 11a, which had been offered in three sections per term, will still be offered, but is being replaced as a core course to provide students with a shared literary experience early in the major. While designed as an introductory course focusing on close reading of poetry, in recent semesters some ENG 11a sections have been underenrolled, and do not share a common focus, texts or assignments. Offering fewer sections of this course will enable the department to offer more upper level seminars for seniors.

The revised curriculum better defines the current world literature requirement and revives a former long-standing requirement in literary theory.  The film/new media option introduces students to two significant cultural experiences of the 20th and 21st centuries: film and digital media.  If the department is able to offer courses in these areas with sufficient frequency, all three components will be required in the future, and the total number of required courses for the major will rise to 11.

Regarding the name change, the department now routinely offers courses in Caribbean, Indian, and African literature written in English, as well as courses in film, sexuality studies, popular culture, performance studies, and (next year) digital media. Many faculty now work in fields that do not fit into the category of national literatures, and the distinction between “American” and “English” literature no longer structures the discipline. 

Morrison also discussed the department’s process for considering curricular change, including construction of the committee (all volunteers), consultation of students in the fall of 2007, departmental meetings, and consideration of other options (e.g., maintaining ENG 11a, but with common texts).

UCC members asked if the department had considered offering multiple sections of ENG 1a or fewer sections of ENG 11a. The department recognizes the advantage of small seminars as introductory courses, but feels it no longer has the staffing to offer them on an ongoing basis. Committee members also asked about the role of HUM 10a “The Western Canon” and ENG 10a “Canonical Precursors” in the new major, and other matters raised in the memoranda from the UDRs and UAH.  Neither HUM 10a nor ENG 10a are current requirements, though they will continue to be taught.  Faculty can also make these courses pre-requisites for 100 level courses. The department shares the university’s commitments to multiculturalism, interdisciplinarity and globalization, and is attempting to introduce multiple canons. Why weren’t the UDRs or other students consulted? The chair did meet with UDRs in the fall, but did not discuss the most recent proposal with them.

Committee members were supportive of the proposed curricular changes, but less enthusiastic about the new title for the major. Because of concern about the amount of student consultation, the department was asked to seek additional feedback from students before returning to the UCC for final action.

At a later meeting, Paul Morrison and Dawn Skorczewski presented new information about the proposed changes to the English curriculum. UDRs were consulted, and now understand the entire proposal. They believe the theory requirement will provide better preparation for graduate school application, and like the idea of shared texts in ENG 1a and greater availability of upper level seminars. They also understand that ENG 10a will count toward the pre-1800 requirement, and are no longer concerned about this matter. However, they still advocate for smaller seminars instead of larger gateway courses.

Morrison also discussed the new requirements with students in a large lecture course, who agreed that the new multi-cultural requirement is an improvement upon the current world literature requirement, and also liked the shared texts of ENG 1a and the introduction of a theory course. This group, too, favored smaller seminars for the introductory course. The department plans a large meeting in September to discuss curricular changes with all majors and minors.

The UCC also reviewed related changes to the Creative Writing (CW) major and new minor in English-language Literatures and Cultures. The latter would simply substitute ENG 1a for ENG 11a. Next year, the Creative Writing faculty expect to propose other changes to the CW major. These changes, which will fundamentally rethink the curriculum, have been planned independently of changes to the English major. In the meantime, it is proposed that either ENG 1a or 11a count as a core course for the CW major and that one multicultural course substitute for the current required Anglophone literature (written in English, not by USA or British writers) course.

ENG 1a will first be offered in the spring of 2009. New requirements, if approved, will not appear until the 09-10 Bulletin is published, but students who declare the major in 08-09 and current majors will be able to select either set of requirements. The dean noted that the size of ENG 1a is not the jurisdiction of this committee, nor is the name of the department, which has been approved by the Humanities School Council.

The UCC approved the curricular revisions for the English and Creative Writing majors and English minor, but deferred consideration of the new title for the major and minor until the fall. Some committee members were concerned that the title would not be easily understandable to a general audience, and that "and Cultures" would be particularly confusing. Faculty from the department will be invited to attend a fall UCC meeting with information about titles of comparable majors at other universities, and with either the same or alternative titles presented for final action.

The UCC also decided to ask all programs and departments proposing future curricular changes to consult with UDRs, majors, and minors, before bringing proposals to the committee.

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Proposed Changes to the Comparative Literature Curriculum

Michael Randall, Chair of the Comparative Literature Program, and Sue Lanser, Professor of English and American Literature, Women's and Gender Studies, and Comparative Literature, presented a proposal for changes to the curriculum of the Comparative Literature major and minor.

The current major requires nine courses: ECS 100a or b; three upper level literature courses taught in a language other than English; two upper level COML courses and two courses drawn from a list of approved cross-listed courses; and a senior project (either an essay or a senior thesis). The revised major and minor would replace ECS 100a with a new core course, COML 100a “Comparing Literatures.” COML 100a, taught annually, will introduce students to current approaches in comparative literature and give attention to theoretical, methodological, textual, multicultural, and historical aspects of literary studies. While the total number of courses in the major will not change, the senior project is now required only for honors candidates, and all students will take an additional course, not necessarily comparative, in any literature or cultural art form whose medium of expression is either oral or written. The new major and minor do not require courses to be offered specifically under the rubric of COML, though comparative courses must bridge more than one national literature or tradition and engage in cross-cultural examination. In addition, no more than two courses in film studies may count toward the COML major, and no more than three courses may double count for this and another major. The number of comparative courses required for the minor also changes from one to two.

The new curriculum continues to emphasize the study of literatures and cultures across national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries, affirming the importance of studying written works, with both transnational awareness and cultural specificity. Program courses now include non-European literatures, thus encouraging a more fully global exploration and allowing COML to broaden its offerings and expand the participation of Humanities faculty. The curriculum affirms the centrality of studying literatures in their original languages and continues to require that all majors and minors complete upper-level literature courses in one or more languages other than English.

UCC members asked when COML 100a would first be offered (fall of 2009). Program faculty were also asked to state double counting rules for the minor. The UCC approved the proposed changes to the curriculum of the Comparative Literature major and minor, as amended with double counting limits for the minor.

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Community-Engaged Learning Bulletin Text

UCC members briefly considered new text on community-engaged learning, which will be included in the next version of the Brandeis University Bulletin.

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Report from the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs: Social Justice and Social Policy

The UCC discussed the reports of the chair of the Social Justice and Social Policy (SJSP) program and the Standing Committee on Interdepartmental Programs before approving a motion to continue the program for a period of three years. The review committee, which met with students and faculty involved in SJSP, recommended a three year continuance because the program is in transition, as Richard Gaskins, its chair, is stepping down; new leadership will create an opportune moment to energize and raise the profile of the program. Student and faculty participants in the program agreed that a new core (feeder) course with an SJSP number should be developed to replace the core course being lost with the retirement of George Ross; this new course could give the program more coherence, identity, and visibility. Program faculty also supported stronger connections with the Heller School. All agree that the program supports one of the four pillars of Brandeis, social justice, and that the program should not only be sustained but expanded.

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