Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#222 The Urgency Of Reinventing Undergraduate Education At Research Universities


I recently attended the dedication of The Reinvention Center at the
State University of New York - Stony Brook. Below is an excerpt from
a compelling speech given at the dedication by Nancy Cantor, provost
of the University of Michigan. Cantor believes that students at a
research university must be prepared to: (1) interact with a diverse
set of peoples and ideas. (2) embrace technology, and (3) work
collaboratively. The excerpt below focuses on the third of these
activities, collaboration and democratic engagement. A complete copy
of her speech, including references can be found at:

A complete copy of the report, The Boyer Commission on Educating
Undergraduates in the Research University REINVENTING UNDERGRADUATE
EDUCATION: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities, can be
found at:


Rick Reis
UP NEXT: Ten Commandments of Tenure Success

Tomorrow's Academy

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Excerpt from: Reinvention: Why Now? Why Us? A Second Anniversary
Retrospective on the Boyer Commission Report, by Provost Nancy
Cantor, University of Michigan, April 28, 2000

Why Us? The Time Is Also Right For Research Universities

Having acknowledged the urgency surrounding the recommendations of
the Boyer Commission, it is also important to consider why the focus
on reinvention for research universities in particular is
appropriate. That is, why us? In part, we are the target of
attention because, as the Commission vividly highlighted, we have not
always paid enough attention to undergraduate education, and, in
light of skyrocketing costs at our institutions, it is time to do
more. And as I have noted, the accountability pressures on our
institutions are especially acute because both the costs of and the
returns to education at our institutions are especially high relative
to less selective comprehensive four-year institutions.

However, I believe that there is also a more positive reason for the
urgency of reinventing undergraduate education at research
universities. In fact, I would say that it is precisely our research
universities who can and should step to the plate. The economic and
social returns to higher education, individually and collectively,
reflect in large part the need for fluency and facility in three
areas that are at the heart of the mission of research universities.
In this day and age, students must be prepared to embrace technology,
to work collaboratively, and to interact with a diverse set of
peoples and ideas. The scale and variety of endeavors on our
campuses and the commitment of our faculty (and graduate students) to
keep pace with change make for an ideal setting for providing a
modern education to our undergraduate students, and now is the time
to do it. The promise of higher education today plays very much to
the strengths of the research university and thus we are presented
with a window of tremendous opportunity, with the possibility of
great benefit inuring to all of our stakeholders.

Collaboration And Democratic Engagement

Finally, I think it is absolutely critical to a modern understanding
of the self in this world that one be able to engage in collaborative
thinking and to become engaged with others across boundaries and in
diverse, ever-changing contexts. A hallmark of democracy is
participation and activism, and yet our society has become
increasingly fragmented, individually drawn to our computers, perhaps
at the cost of building community and collective understandings and
projects. In truth, social, physical and, maybe most of all,
cognitive collaboration is extraordinarily hard, and it is not
something that any of us is particularly well educated to do. That
is, our secondary schools don't train our students to come to the
table with that kind of willingness to relinquish the boundaries of
self and others, cognitively as well as socially. And certainly
within universities the incentive structures are very difficult with
respect to collaboration. Still, against all odds, our research
institutions are fertile ground for collaborative efforts, not just
with other academic disciplines but also among "generations" of
students and faculty, and among the university community and the
world at large. Most Americans live with us at some time in their
lives, and our universities serve as unique social laboratories in
which new forms of living and collective practice can be modeled.

I would like to talk briefly about an example of a truly
collaborative program at the University of Michigan that models the
permeability of boundaries and also serves as a powerful reminder of
what the research university offers to undergraduate education. The
Arts of Citizenship Program aims to promote collaboration not only
among faculty and students in the arts and humanities, but also
between the university and "culture-makers" in our larger community:
arts and cultural institutions, teachers, civic groups, and public
agencies. Established in 1998 as a "public goods" unit under the
Office of the Vice President for Research, one goal of the program is
to address the growing divide between the research university and its
various publics, a divide that comes at the cost of attenuating the
university as a place. At a talk last year as part of our "Future of
the Research University" series, the director of the program, David
Scobey, explored why it is so critical for us to re-establish those
connections and overcome what he sees as a fundamental contradiction
in the work we do. He tells the story of presenting his first
proposal to a group of community advisors. The proposal was for a
series that would bring nationally known artists, intellectuals, and
cultural advocates to Ann Arbor to reflect on the public salience of
their work. "All that is very fine," said one of the board members.
"You academics love to hear talks and we understand it's important to
you. But why don't you do something practical for a change? What do
the arts and humanities have to contribute to everyday community
life?" And this challenge was the impetus for the Arts of
Citizenship Program. The mayor of Ann Arbor invited participation in
conversations about the reconstruction of a local bridge and its
surrounding neighborhood, and suddenly, Scobey says, a whole "new set
of possibilities opened up: the possibility of a university-based
initiative that integrated national cultural debates with local
projects, civic collaboration with intellectual experiments, place
with profession" (Scobey, pp. 6-7).

The result has been a series of projects that link undergraduates,
graduate and professional students, and faculty with community
partners in the collaborative creation of public cultural goods. That
bridge reconstruction, for instance, led to the "Students on Site"
project where teams of students and faculty partner with Ann Arbor
teachers to develop curricula that use the neighborhood itself as a
vehicle to study history, poetry, and environmental education.
Undergraduates, supervised by a graduate student and sometimes the
program director, taught the new units in a dozen city classrooms
this year, reaching over two hundred students. In the program's
"Emerging Voices" project, students from the University's Residential
College have been interviewing elders in Detroit--in churches, senior
citizen centers, neighborhood centers, and private homes-about what
it has been like to come of age as a teenager in Detroit over the
past 75 years. The resulting life-stories will, in turn, be
transformed into theater pieces by Detroit's renowned Mosaic Youth
Theater for the celebration of the city's 300th anniversary in 2001.

These collaborative projects enrich both the larger community and our
own educational mission. They enable students to integrate research,
creative work, classroom learning, and practical projects. They also
promote collaboration among different generations of students,
teachers, and community partners, bringing new undergraduates,
experienced citizens, and graduate students together. In trying to
answer the question, "What do the arts and humanities have to offer
to the larger community?," this program offers a new model of
collaborative teaching and learning inside and outside the
traditional boundaries of the university.

The multi-community/intergenerational model of the Arts of
Citizenship Program reminds me of an important, but often-neglected,
resource of research institutions and that is our graduate students.
The Boyer Commission Report recognizes that "the metamorphosis of
undergraduate education at research universities cannot occur without
suitable adjustments in the way that graduate students are prepared
for their professional roles" (p. 29). Here I want to go a step
farther and suggest--somewhat against the grain of current received
wisdom--that graduate students, if well-trained, should be seen as a
value-added component in undergraduate education. I recognize that
the question of training is not insignificant, but it is absolutely
do-able, and with good training, our graduate students can play an
enormously constructive role in undergraduate education at large
research universities. Because they are closer to undergraduates
than we are in critical ways--demographically diverse,
technologically facile, and of great collaborative spirit-they are
wonderful role models for the newer students. The breadth of their
fields and their openness to interdisciplinary fields of
study-indeed, their enthusiasm for trying something new--can be
captured to bring to bear on the full range of possibilities in a
liberal arts curriculum. Our graduate students, if we can think of
them beyond the "TA" model, can play a key role in much of the
learning outside the formal or traditional classroom, as we have
learned at Michigan through programs such as the Arts of Citizenship
and the Program on Intergroup Relations, Conflict and Community. In
this era where many of the traditional parameters of university life
are rapidly changing and where we must manage to rethink and reinvent
some of the ways we teach and learn, while at the same time remaining
faithful to our core values, we would do well to recognize the role
of our graduate students as agents of change in transforming
undergraduate education.