UW News

February 24, 2005

Faculty Senate council balances needs of students today and tomorrow

Editor’s note: This is one of a series of articles written by the chairs of Faculty Senate councils and committees. Don Janssen is the chair of the Faculty Council for Academic Standards.

What is a UW Baccalaureate degree? Well, typically 180 credits, including some specific courses or course sequences, and some hard-to-define “things” (the “intangibles”) that complete the UW “brand.” Taken together, these components produce a degree that many of us feel is equal or superior to a degree earned at _______ (insert rival higher education institution of your choice).

A typical degree program consists of a core set of courses providing a comprehensive background in the field, combined with a set of electives which allows each student to pursue at least some level of concentration in his or her specific area of interest.

The primary authority for determining degree requirements rests with the UW faculty in each degree-granting unit, and the faculty have generally developed degree programs with as much flexibility as possible. Included with that flexibility is the implicit assumption that the students will work with faculty members and academic advisors in their area of interest in order to develop an appropriate set of elective courses.

There are many pressures on existing degree programs to allow exceptions to be made so that students can graduate more easily. Perhaps the desire for an exception is because a student will have finished all of the degree requirements by the end of autumn quarter, with the exception of a single required course that is only taught in spring. Will allowing that student to graduate without the required course “cheapen” the degree? Or set a precedent for other students that the “required” course isn’t really required after all?

Perhaps the flexibility aspect in a degree program has lost the faculty advising component, and students are just taking courses based on convenience rather than to fulfill a coherent plan. Or perhaps a student has worked out a coherent plan for elective courses, but ends up with less than one year worth of courses above the sophomore level.

Though the faculties associated with individual degree programs develop and modify specific degree requirements, final faculty approval of Baccalaureate degree programs is handled by an oversight committee on each of the three UW campuses. These oversight committees are made up of faculty from different departments or programs, and have the overall responsibility of (among other things) protecting the UW “brand” that we are rightfully proud of. At the Seattle campus, this group is the Faculty Council for Academic Standards (FCAS).

FCAS is currently working on a variety of issues related to maintaining the integrity of UW Baccalaureate degrees. We are developing recommendations for upper-division course requirements in degree programs, and are starting to look at the requirements for a minimum of 45 UW credits for each UW degree granted (currently, students pursuing dual degrees are required to complete an additional 45 credits beyond that required for the first degree), and may also consider double-major requirements as well.

Our role is to balance the short-term goals of our current students (in allowing them to complete their degrees in a timely manner) with the long-term interests of past, present and future students in terms of maintaining the value of their UW Baccalaureate degrees. FCAS welcomes new members to assist us with our pursuits (please contact the secretary of the faculty, secfac@u.washington.edu if you are interested in becoming a member of FCAS) as well as new issues that you believe we should look at (please contact Don Janssen, FCAS Chair, d6423@u.washington.edu).