March 14, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 13

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    Task forces on education issue report

    The combined report of the task forces on graduate and undergraduate education has been published in a special edition of the University Record, contained in today's Chronicle.

    The task forces were formed in spring 1994 to advise the President and the Provost on the future renewal and development of the faculty and educational programs in light of the short- and long-term financial constraints faced by the University.

    Since January of last year, the undergraduate task force has been chaired by Robert Zimmer, Professor in Mathematics and Associate Provost, and the graduate task force has been chaired by Daniel Garber, the Lawrence Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in Philosophy and Associate Provost; the task forces were initially chaired by Provost Geoffrey Stone. The close connections between the inquiries of the two groups led to joint meetings, beginning last autumn, and the combined report submitted last week.

    The report is the result of work by several dozen faculty members and is expected to be a touchstone for important decisions made over the next several years on issues ranging from the size of the faculty, the College and graduate programs to policies on financial aid, graduate-student teaching and the mix of master's and Ph.D. programs.

    "This report is the result of a great deal of thoughtful work by some of our most distinguished faculty," said Stone. "At a time when universities are facing new challenges, this report reminds us of what gives our College, our graduate programs and our faculty their distinctive excellence, and it will help us think clearly about the ways we must act to protect and enhance their special strengths as we move forward."

    Stone said the recommendations of the report will be supplemented by the report of the third task force, on the quality of student life, chaired by Susan Kidwell, Professor in Geophysical Sciences.

    The two task forces on education were established as one response to the steadily increasing budget deficits of the early 1990s. As the report notes, improvements are needed in the University's balance of revenue and expenses both to eliminate the deficits and to put the University on a long-term trend of financial strength.

    The report notes that the University faces particular financial pressures. It is unique among its peers in the relatively small size of its undergraduate student population and the relatively large size of its graduate-student population. Moreover, the University offers more need-based financial aid to its undergraduates than any of its peer institutions. For these reasons, Chicago is the only major university for which the wage base of the faculty in the arts and sciences exceeds the net undergraduate tuition. Chicago's historically small College also means it has fewer college alumni, who are typically the most generous supporters of endowment.

    The task forces considered the ways the University might respond to these issues, but they did not attempt in their report to recommend precise targets. "Our goal has not been to offer a particular solution," said Zimmer, "but to emphasize the academic challenges we face and to articulate the academic values we must keep in mind if we are to maintain and enhance the quality of our teaching and research and of our students and faculty."

    Zimmer said a central theme of the undergraduate section of the report is the need for a still greater sense of ownership and involvement regarding the undergraduate curriculum on the part of all faculty members and departments.

    "There is an enormous capacity for the faculty as a whole to contribute further to these efforts, and this contribution will be especially necessary if decisions are made to increase enrollment in the College," Zimmer said.

    He emphasized that any changes must protect the University's research strength and be undertaken only if the exceptional quality of its students is preserved or enhanced. And he stressed that any changes that affect the size of the student body will affect departments in different ways, and that some of those departments may need more resources to fulfill their educational responsibilities.

    The undergraduate section of the report also suggests that various means be considered to accelerate the recent trend of increased applications, including improving the overall quality of student life and innovations in the use of financial aid to the most able applicants.

    The graduate section notes that Chicago is distinctive for the highly interdisciplinary work of its faculty and graduate students, and it emphasizes the importance of maintaining the quality of both groups. But it also notes that financial pressures require that many aspects of graduate education be evaluated, including the relative sizes of Ph.D. and master's programs, the policies by which financial aid is awarded and the role of graduate teaching.

    "Our goal is to articulate the general philosophical principles that should govern the changes we will need to make over the next several years," said Garber. "It is time to re-evaluate our priorities in light of new realities, and this report should help us do that."

    Garber said he believes that while changes must be made, the University's character does not need to change.

    "It is obviously important for us to continue to be a great graduate research and educational institution," he said. "But that is not inconsistent with a better and larger College, or with making our undergraduates feel like an even more important and valued part of the University."