Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 23, 2020

Five years out, some CUE goals remain unmet

By Leah Mainiero | April 23, 2008

Five years after the Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE) issued a comprehensive report aimed at improving the social and academic life of undergraduate students, several of the committee's recommendations remain unfulfilled.

The faculty, administrators and students making up the commission issued 34 recommendations in 2003, ranging from a desire to create more field space for intramural sports activities to a promise of guaranteed four-year student housing, both of which have not been accomplished.

In an e-mail to the News-Letter, President William Brody acknowledged that providing more athletic space remains a problem.

"I wish we had additional fields, but, obviously, we are constrained on the Homewood campus by the lack of open space. All urban universities face this challenge and many have to eventually put their sports activities at some distance from the campus. We are luckier than many," Brody said.

Bill Leslie, professor of history of science, chaired the subcommittee regarding student life; he agreed that the difficulty of physical expansion as the primary obstacle preventing the creation of more fields for student sports. As the University expanded across the Wyman Park area, space for intramural practices was eaten away. The only space that remains other than the practice field, Leslie said, is the freshman quad and the volleyball court next to AMR I.

According to Brody, the University is taking steps toward solving this problem in the near future, constructing a new track and improving the field on the Eastern campus, as well as planning to add turf to the new Decker Quad to provide more space for casual sports competitions and practices.

The CUE report also recommended that within the next 10 years, the University develop more residence halls to guarantee on-campus housing to all undergraduate students for all four years of their education.

Five years after the report was issued, students are still only guaranteed housing for their first two years.

"This issue is certainly one that I hear from parents about, and I remain hopeful that we can develop a plan to provide this opportunity for those who want it. I think it would make a difference in the sense of community for undergraduates," Brody wrote.

Though four-year guaranteed housing may not be in the immediate future, the University has achieved several key objectives, including providing additional sophomore housing through the construction of Charles Commons, completed in 2006. According to CUE chairwoman Dean of Underguate Education and Vice Provost Paula Burger, Charles Commons was built with the dual purpose of providing additional housing for upperclassmen and encouraging social interaction and group study, two important recommendations of the CUE report.

"I think the CUE report galvanized the commitment to [build Charles Commons]," Burger said. "We said it would address the need to strengthen the community. CUE created interest and support."

Professor Stephen David, another committee member, agreed.

"My own view is that the best thing to come out of CUE was the recognition that we needed more student housing, which eventually led to the creation of Charles Commons. Having students living together has helped create a much stronger sense of community, something long overdue at Hopkins," he wrote in an e-mail.

Coupled with the commission's recommendation to build up residence halls was its recommendation to improve student social life in the Charles Village area as well as social programming in on-campus residence halls.

"The idea was to create a college town feel to [Charles Village]," Leslie said, "though it hasn't succeeded well."

Leslie points to the empty space that used to house Xando's and TGI-Friday's as examples of the failed attempts to create a more student-friendly college scene.

With the building of Charles Commons, "we've jumped across Charles Street; in that respect we're integrated into Charles Village much more," he said. "However, we're still not there yet. We're still pretty isolated from the surrounding area."

Another important recommendation from the CUE report focused on creating open spaces for students to study in groups or socialize. The commission, however, did not support the creation of a student union, and construction of a central student center remains unlikely.

Brody defended the commission's view.

"The concept of a single 'student union' is a throwback to the large eating facility coupled with some common meeting rooms that characterized the large public universities," he said.

There is some evidence that going to a single student union will not necessarily foster the building of a stronger community," he wrote.

Instead of creating a central hub, the committee recommendation focused on creating more "hangout space" on and around campus, which has been realized in Charles Commons, Barnes and Noble, and the Mattin Center, as well as through the planned renovations to Gilman Hall. Burger also anticipates increasing social space in Wolman.

In the academic sphere, CUE has experienced more success in implementing several key concrete changes.

Expanding support for the study abroad office has increased Hopkins's international focus, while the Baltimore Scholars Program, designed to provide full financial aid to accepted students from Baltimore's city schools, will welcome its fourth class this fall.

The CUE recommendation to create undergraduate studies directors has been implemented, ensuring that students have a specific professor from whom they can ask advice.

"I think it's given us a set of people with formal responsibility. They take their position seriously," Burger said. "They are the go-to person when we have an issue."

Creating the position of Vice Provost, the title that Burger holds now, was also a result of CUE.

"What the committee thought was that there should be a single point of accountability that brought together the academic and social experience of undergraduates," Burger said.

Burger meets with the undergraduate studies directors several times a year with the goal of improving communication between majors and departments.

In the meetings, the directors discuss various steps they are undertaking to improve the undergraduate experience, including planned changes to course approvals, the writing program and writing intensive courses.

Recently the directors have taken an interest in early textbook adoptions, which would give the campus bookstore more time to order used textbooks and lower student textbook costs.

Professor Bruce Hamilton was the head of the academic experience subcommittee. He is not convinced that the creation of the position was necessary.

"Frankly, what the recommendation did was to formalize what the [economics] department was already doing," he said.

Hamilton attributes the increased communication between major departments, and between professors and students, more to the ease of communication via e-mail than to the appointment of an official director.

One of the more controversial recommendations included in the CUE report was the change from a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class-scheduling system.

"Hopkins was being called a commuter campus, and five courses in three days contribute to stress level," Burger said. A change of schedule, according to Burger, makes more effective use of classrooms, spreads classes out, keeps students engaged on-campus and puts Hopkins in synch with Bloomberg and Peabody.

Some students, however, are discontent with the new schedule.

"I've heard both sides of this," Burger said. "Students regret not having such long weekends, but then, the perception of stuff happening on weekends is easier to have when your student body is here [the whole week]. But the jury's still out."

The freshman undergraduate experience at Hopkins received special attention from the commission, who expressed a desire to improve first-year academics by offering smaller classes and a more seamless transition into college life.

"The freshman book discussion was initiated in the spirit of the report with an interest in facilitating students coming together around issues," Burger said. "Similarly, we did a humanities colloquium where students were engaged in small groups; we invited all first-year students to participate."

Other changes in freshman course offerings include the B'more Intersession program, which exposes students to a particular area in Baltimore that relates to an area of academic interest.

Additionally, several departments, including the biology department, also offered small freshman seminars.

In most departments, the push toward smaller class sizes has met with mixed results.

Though some departments with large introductory courses compensate with smaller sections, freshmen still face much larger class sizes as departmental tendencies lean toward using extra resources to create more upper-level courses.

As Hamilton pointed out, "cutting enrollment from a class of 440 to two classes of 220 doesn't accomplish very much."

"It's really a trade-off between offering more classes for first-year students and offering smaller upper level courses for juniors and seniors," Burger said.

For now, freshmen enrolled in introductory classes like microeconomics or organic chemistry will have to be content only with small sections.

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