June 25, 2003

Committtee on Educational Policy

Aaauuugghhh! They got me.

On behalf of the [U.C. Berkeley College of] L[etters ]&[ ]S[cience] Committee on Committees, I am writing to thank you for your willingness to serve on the L&S Executive Committee for the 2003-2004 academic year and to confirm your appointment on behalf of the Committee on Committees. Enclosed is a copy of Bylaw 10, which describes the duties of the committee...

10. Executive. This committee shall have at least seven members, including the Chair of the Faculty, the Chair of the Deans of the College, and the Dean of Undergraduate Education. The Chair of the Faculty shall be chair of this committee.

(A) The committee shall have general oversight of the welfare of the students of the College. It shall serve as a Committee on Educational Policy for the College and shall make such studies, reports, and recommendations considering questions of educational policy as it may from time to time deem advisable, or which may be referred to it by the Faculty of the College or other appropriate authority. The Faculty may, howver, establish committees to deal with special aspects of educational policy or other matters.

(B) Requirements for departmental, group, and major programs, including prerequisites and limitations on programs, and alternative electives, shall be submitted to this committee for approval, before publication and before they become effective.

(C) This committee shall determine which courses may appropriately be accepted in satisfaction of the requirements described in the Regulations of the Berkeley Division and the requirements prescribed by the Faculty of the College in accordance with those Regulations.

(D) The committee may authorize the Divisional Dean of Undergraduate Advising to administer the Regulations of the Berkeley Division insofar as these apply to students enrolled in the College, to approve, on behalf of the Faculty, such suspensions of the regulations as may, in his or her judgment, appear necessary or equitable in individual cases, to supervise those students who become subject to probation or dismissal, and to take appropriate action in the case of each such students. The Dean shall make an annual report to the Executive Committee, for eventual distribution to the Faculty, concerning his or her exercise of the authority thus conferred.

Well, if I'm going to be on a committee which second-guesses departments on prerequisites and alternate electives, and which also is supposed to serve as the Berkeley Letters and Sciences Educational Policy Committee, I guess I should try to make some educational policy. All suggestions as to what Berkeley's educational policy should be are welcome. I have, to begin with, four tentative proposals:

  • All Berkeley students should be able to major in whatever department or program they want.
  • All courses should be given in large enough rooms and with sufficient funding that all Berkeley students with the substantive preparation needed for the course should be able to enroll in it.
  • All courses should be given on a timely and a regular schedule, so that the cumulative numbers of student-semesters spent waiting for any course should not exceed 100. (I.e., courses with regular enrollments of 100 or more should be offered every semester; courses with regular enrollments of 50 or more should be offered every other semester; courses with regular enrollment of 33 or more should be offered every third semester; and so forth.)
  • Students should not find themselves forced to remain in Berkeley for summer school in order to complete their undergraduate programs in four years.

Posted by DeLong at June 25, 2003 04:45 PM | TrackBack


Brad, you are clearly not cut out for higher ed administration. Real administrators treat the 100-student semester limit as a minimum.

Posted by: Paul on June 25, 2003 06:15 PM

Brad DeLong is freaking awesome! Brad DeLong for PRESIDENT!

Posted by: Chris on June 25, 2003 06:48 PM

"... on behalf of the Committee on Committees.


Posted by: Jim Glass on June 25, 2003 06:53 PM

Your suggestions sound good, but I do think there is a problem with the first proposal (anyone can major in anything). For the more technical disciplines (say Cognitive Science) it could wreak absolute havoc with usage plans for expensive equipment and labs. If there are suddenly 200 transfers from say, Computer Science to Cognitive Science because of chaos in the department or some articles about CogSci as a 'hot' field, you could be short 200 Neurobiology lab chairs in a year or so.

I do sympathize with the desire to break open the 'gentlemen's club' departments which are not terribly interested in spreading out their knowledge to those who want to be educated beyond a select elite.

My school (Concordia, Montreal - not a great example of how to run a university, but whatever) more or less banned program transfers because of this problem and the related one of career undergraduates.

I also think grade inflation should be on your agenda. I still remember the Statistics course I got an A+ in - despite understanding almost nothing (to my embarassment, my stats knowledge is still pretty weak). Apparently I understood enough more than the other class members that I got the highest mark in the class - which was by definition an A+. I assume that things this idiotic don't happen at Berkeley but it's a big schoool with many corners so who can be sure?

Posted by: bobdobba on June 25, 2003 08:44 PM

Hurrah! Three cheers for Brad!


"Students should not find themselves forced to remain in Berkeley for summer school in order to complete their undergraduate programs in four years."

should actually be changed to

"Students should not find themselves forced to remain in Berkeley for summer school in order to complete their undergraduate programs in FIVE years."

Posted by: Walter on June 25, 2003 11:29 PM

Jim beat me to it:

"to confirm your appointment on behalf of the Committee on Committees."


Posted by: Ian Welsh on June 26, 2003 12:27 AM

Have they started impeachment proceedings yet, Brad?

Posted by: pblsh on June 26, 2003 06:10 AM

"All courses should be given in large enough rooms and with sufficient funding that all Berkeley students with the substantive preparation needed for the course should be able to enroll in it."

You might want to add some kind of qualifier about the number of students who could reasonably be expected to WANT to take the course; otherwise there will be a lot of courses taught at the football stadium . . .

Posted by: rea on June 26, 2003 07:00 AM

Based on my undergrad and grad experiences (BS in CompSci and MBA), I would vote to remove all prerequisites from every course in the curriculum at all levels.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan on June 26, 2003 07:53 AM

I've always thought that one way to solve the problem of so many students at big universities who can't graduate in four years (at least, not without the aforementioned summer school) would be to require that a certain (relatively high) percentage of a student's general education requirement be met in the first two years.

I think a lot of students go off to college wanting to major in X field, knowing almost nothing about it and even less about alternatives to X. They then load up on courses in X in their first two years, deciding to delay their distribution requirements in other fields until later because they are less enthused about them. Then when they finally take that dreaded course in philosophy or economics or chemistry the fall semester of their junior year and decide they like it more than X, and want to switch majors, they have to stay more than four years to fulfill all the requirements in their new major AND the general education requirements they've put off for two years.

I've also thought that there are certain intellectual building block classes that everyone should take (things like statistics, english composition, etc.), that should be sepearted from the rest of the curriculum so that you could require students to develop mastery of those subjects without overly penalizing students for whom the material doesn't come naturally. So for instance you might say that every student must pass a statistics exam at a very high level of proficiency (say, the 'A' level of a traditional stats course) before the graduate, but that they could take the intro stats class as often as they needed to to reach that level and that they wouldn't receive a grade in the class that would count toward their GPA or show up on their transcript. In other words, the idea would be to insure that every student attained some level of mastery of statistics, NOT to try to sort out the best and brightest stats students, which is what the traditional grading system does.

Posted by: sd on June 26, 2003 09:13 AM

Four and a half years ago, when I was trying to decide between Berkeley and Harvard undergrad, that list would have made the decision a lot easier. We already have all four of those here, and probably never consider what it would be like otherwise (I'm sure Brad knows this well), but I would be impressed if Berkeley, with its size and finances, could do that. It would be well worth it.

Posted by: Jesse on June 26, 2003 10:15 AM

Don't have courses offered either every spring or every fall, mix them up a little.

Posted by: Adam on June 26, 2003 10:47 AM

A suggestion.

MIT had an excellent rule that departments had to structure their undergraduate programs so that a student that passed all the expected coursework (i.e., pass 4 classes every semester for 90 units per year, pass a humanities distribution class each semester, pass all the Freshmen requirements) that student could start a program at the beginning of their Junior year, and still graduate in 4 years in that department. This means that a department-specific chain of prerequisites cannot be more than 4 long (a->b->c->d), and if it is 4 long, the department has to offer all the necessary classes in the right semesters, and give junior's preference if necessary to let them take the class.

Now, some department's bent the rules. The standard sophmore year in aerospace was four classes over two semesters all called "Unified Engineering," and the various Junior-level aerospace classes were easier if you had completed Unified, but Unified was not a formal prerequisite to all of them, and it was possible to do Unified and other Junior-level work at the same time.

This was particularly good for MIT, because of the large structure of labs parallel to the departmental organization. You could work as an undergraduate in a lab, find you like the discipline, and transfer to that discipline. If there's no easy way for an undergraduate at Berkeley to find out that he liked a different program, that is a different problem, but reduces the need to be able to start a major in your Junior year and still complete it.

Posted by: Tom on June 26, 2003 11:14 AM

Show me the money.

Posted by: MikeL on June 26, 2003 11:51 AM

I find this list of four items a rather strange mixture.
Item 4 is rhetorical, a preface to 2 & 3.
Do you mean (concretely) more?
Item 1 sounds similar, but I suspect it's a code for some concrete policy change.

Bobdobba - I doubt we're looking at "'gentlemen's club' departments which are not terribly interested in spreading out their knowledge," but rather restrictions imposed by other departments,
afraid that, say, EECS will swallow 1/3 of the school, as MIT decided to allow in the 60s. But I don't know what's going on at Berkeley, which is why Brad should clarify item 1.

Posted by: L on June 26, 2003 12:25 PM

Berkeley accepts students into specific colleges on campus. Having been accepted, students sometimes find themselves in 'impacted' majors, meaning that they will be competing for spots in specific departments within that college. In order to compete, they need to take specific classes, say, Econ 101A and Stat 21. If they can't get into these classes they have to wait, and will probably have to delay graduation. As a transfer student, these classes need to be taken in the Fall of the Junior year. As the major is impacted, these classes are impacted also.

So 1-4 very much belong in the same Frustration Basket.

Posted by: Saam Barrager on June 27, 2003 02:05 PM

I think point 1 is a nice idea , but I wonder about effects on the impacted majors, as well as the majors used as alternatives. Would the number of business (which currently accepts only half of their applicants), compunter science, econ, and PEIS majors balloon? What would be the result of rescinding the GPA requirement for majors such as econ and PEIS? Would it effect teaching?
As for point 2, another good idea, Chem 1a, already offered in the largest building on campus, still turns people away. But beyond that extreme, an effort should be made to ensure that classes with notorious waitlists get the largest classrooms. Another factor is section availability -- I've been in a class, with a waiting list, that dropped available section times, further reducing enrollment.

Posted by: J on June 28, 2003 06:20 PM
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