A task force of faculty members, students and administrators has recommended significant changes to undergraduate education at Northwestern, including changing the University’s academic calendar, addressing student workload requirements, enhancing support for teaching and improving advising, as well as a number of related improvements.
Chaired by Indira Raman, the Bill and Gayle Cook Professor of Biology in the department of neurobiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the task force on the Undergraduate Academic Experience recently delivered its final report and recommendations to Provost Daniel Linzer. The task force spent the spring, summer and fall quarters gathering data and meeting with a wide range of University stakeholders.
“Many members of the University community -- students, faculty and staff -- shared their perspectives and insights with the task force. We greatly appreciate their thoughtful and creative ideas about the undergraduate academic experience and how to make it the best it can be,” Raman said. “The task force worked hard to be responsive to a wide range of views expressed by the community and to synthesize them into a coherent set of recommendations, which we hope will have a positive influence on students, faculty and staff.”
Read the task force's full report online and log in to Our Northwestern to comment on the report's recommendations below. You can also send comments and perspectives on the report and its recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The task force’s recommendations are grouped into three types of changes: structural changes to be made at the University level; programs and projects to address identified issues; and cultural shifts to enhance the academic and broader University environment.
A key recommendation in the first group is to implement a modified quarter system. Northwestern’s current academic calendar of three 10-week quarters starting in late September and extending to mid-June gets mixed reviews. Students say they like the ability to take more courses than on a traditional two-semester calendar, because it allows them to take advantage of the wide range of offerings at Northwestern. But they also comment on the late end date, the rapid pace of courses and the long stretches without breaks that the current academic calendar imposes.
In the proposed “10-5-5-10” calendar, the year would still be composed of three 10-week quarters, but the academic year would start approximately five weeks earlier than it does now. The split winter quarter would allow for faculty innovation in course structures. Additionally, the proposed modified calendar may potentially address some of the challenges many students face in coordinating internships and other summer opportunities.
“Modifying the academic calendar is only one of the recommendations, but doing so could set the stage for positive changes in many elements of the University experience, both academically and in other areas,” Raman said.
Other recommended structural changes are:
- Manage the student workload experience
- Align the graduation requirements that are common to all undergraduate schools
- Normalize the Advanced Placement credits accepted in all schools
- Update and normalize distribution requirements across schools
- Enhance and support academic advising
In addition to the structural changes, the task force recommended enhancing a number of programs and undertaking projects to address identified needs. Those include:
- Provide additional resources to increase the availability of counseling and psychological services
- Enhance support for teaching
- Provide research support for faculty commitment to teaching
- Grant teaching credit for cross-departmental teaching
- Expand support for undergraduate research opportunities
- Build and/or renovate more classrooms
- Support assessment
“I’m very pleased with the diligence of the task force in developing a set of recommendations that have the potential for significantly enhancing the undergraduate academic experience at Northwestern,” Linzer said. “I’m particularly happy that the task force spent so much time engaging those within the University who would be affected by these recommendations.”
Linzer encouraged faculty, students and staff across the University to review the report. “The recommendations in the report provide an excellent starting point for an institutional discussion on improving the undergraduate academic experience. I hope these recommendations will be discussed in a diverse set of forums across the University during the winter quarter and that we will develop priorities together for moving forward.”
Members of the task force were:
- Steve Carr, professor, material sciences and engineering, McCormick School of Engineering, and associate dean of undergraduate engineering
- Mesmin Destin, assistant professor, human development and social policy, School of Education and Social Policy, and assistant professor, psychology, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
- Kimberly Gray, professor, civil and environmental engineering, McCormick School of Engineering Robert Gundlach, professor, linguistics, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and director, The Writing Program
- Eszter Hargittai, April McClain-Delaney and John Delaney Research Professor, communication studies, School of Communication
- Candy Lee, professor, communication management and strategy, Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications
- Andrew Mills, assistant professor in residence, journalism program, Northwestern University-Qatar
- John Mordacq, distinguished senior lecturer, Program in Biological Sciences, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and PBS Laboratory Director
- Todd Murphey, Charles Deering McCormick Associate Professor, mechanical engineering, McCormick School of Engineering
- Susan Piagentini, Charles Deering McCormick University Distinguished Senior Lecturer, music theory and cognition, Bienen School of Music
- Indira Raman, Bill and Gayle Cook Professor, neurobiology (chair), Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences
- Harvey Young, associate professor, theatre and performance studies, School of Communication, and director of the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama program
- Laurie Zoloth, professor, religious studies, bioethics and medical humanities, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and faculty senate representative
Ex officio members:
- Todd Adams, assistant vice president and dean of students
- Cheryl Berriman, representative of The Graduate School
- Ron Braeutigam, Harvey Kapnick Professor, economics, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and associate provost for undergraduate education
- Christina Kim, ASG executive vice president, member starting in June 2015
- Michael Mills, associate provost for University Enrollment
- Riko Ohashi, ASG academics vice president, member starting in May 2015
- Anna Rennich, ASG academics vice president, member from February 2015 to May 2015
- Noah Star, ASG president, member starting in June 2015
Staff support was provided by Jake Julia, associate vice president and associate provost for academic initiatives; Eileen McCarthy, assistant vice president for administration and planning, administration and planning; and Rebecca Pinchuk, project coordinator, Office of Change Management.