'60 Minutes' discussion yields no clear solution

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Everyone seems to agree that the "60 Minutes" episode "struck a nerve" at the university, but the agreement seems to end with finding the causes and solutions of the problem.

The problem with the University of Arizona, as reported on the Jan. 26 episode of "60 Minutes," is the low number of professors teaching undergraduate classes and the university's emphasis on research at the expense of teaching.

"The program hit a nerve, but it was not a nerve we didn't know was exposed," said J. Douglas Canfield, English professor and a member of many administration committees involving tenure and undergraduate education, to about 70 people, most of whom were watching the "60 Minutes" video for the first time.

The UA Student Environmental Action Coalition and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlan, held the forum Thursday night to show the much-talked-about video and offer a panel discussion involving faculty members, administrators and students.

Susan Steele, the vice provost of undergraduate education and only administrator on the panel, said she agreed that the university recognizes the problem and is making progress in trying to solve it.

"As a member of the administration, I know we are working hard to try to make improvements for undergraduates, but change is slow," Steele said. "But the change is continuing and is gaining momentum." She said the administration has designed the proposed core curriculum program with the intent of "getting more faculty in lower division classes."

Canfield said that while some departments, such as English and Spanish, have problems with "not putting faculty in lower division classes," those departments are now "being pressured to do so." And, he said, there are also departments, especially humanities and the sciences, that already do well in this area.

Several programs the university has recently implemented to improve undergraduate education

include the "courses in common" program which allows a group of students to take math, English and a third class together. They would also attend a first-year colloquia program, which includes 57 one-unit classes limited to 15 students and one "premiere" faculty member, he said.

Even Jon Solomon, a classics associate professor who appeared on the "60 Minutes" program, admits that the problem is "not as bad as it was five years ago."

"It is a shame it took something like '60 Minutes' to bring these changes about. Many of the steps the administration took this week were proposed three years ago," he said, referring specifically to a prestigious newly-created award for "super teachers."

"I have a vision ... students thrilled on a daily basis about the education they receive," he said, adding that despite the recent improvements, this vision of undergraduate education is still far from reality. "When students tell me 'this is the best class I have ever had,' I say 'thanks,' but I think you should have had 20 classes like this."

Naomi Mudge, a history senior and SEAC member, said she agrees that the administrators have not done enough to solve the problem. She said instead of dealing with the problem, they have spent their time and energy writing letters and memos defending the UA.

"We see now that if you light a match under the administration's feet, they hop," she said. "But if they spent as much time and energy as they did reacting to the bad publicity, on undergraduate education ... or listening to student's concerns, '60 Minutes' wouldn't have focused on the UA and we would not have this problem. The administrators say how dedicated they are to undergraduate education, but they haven't proven that to me."

But she said solving the problem is not only the administration's responsibility, but is shared by the students and faculty.

"It is obvious undergraduates are unsatisfied with the education they are receiving," Mudge said. "We complain all the time, but we aren't organized. The students need to get organized if we want to make changes."

Solomon also had ideas about how to solve the problems that include faculty and students. Faculty members, he said, should be more accepting and enthusiastic about teaching.

"It doesn't help if faculty are in the classroom if they aren't excited," he said. "To some professors, teaching is what (they) have to do and research is what (they) want to do."

But he said he teaches two large lectures, meets with students and still has "a good 30 to 40 hours per week for research," so he knows it can be done.

While the panelists were split on how to solve the problem, they all agreed that research and undergraduate education do not need be in conflict, with one suffering as the other improves.

"We want teachers who keep up with their field, and the only way to show that is by their research and publications," Canfield said. "So the question is do we want teachers who don't keep up with their field? Or do we want professors who can pass on the great, passionate, infectiousness of their field of study?"

But he also said, "I think we have swung the pendulum too far in the direction of research."

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