Harry Elam gives undergraduate education annual report

Harry Elain
Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education, at a recent faculty senate meeting. (Photo: Linda Cicero)

At a recent faculty senate meeting, Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education, discussed undergraduate education, focusing on Thinking Matters, which is designed to introduce incoming students to college-level thinking by having them tackle problems, questions and issues of significant import. It is now in its third year.

Elam said surveys have shown that the courses are popular with both students and faculty, and as a result, it has been easier to recruit faculty members to develop and teach the courses. Freshmen are required to take at least one Thinking Matters course.

He said the fear that the humanities would suffer when Thinking Matters replaced Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) has proved to be unfounded. In fact, the two most popular Thinking Matters courses this year – What Is Love? and Evil – are humanities courses, taught by medievalists and philosophers, he said.

Elam said the 27 courses in this year’s Thinking Matters catalog present a wide range of offerings from across the university, including a course on cancer from Stanford Medical School; on the rules of war from Stanford Law School and the Political Science Department; and on meeting the global sustainability challenge from the School of Earth Sciences and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“Because students only have to take one Thinking Matters course, instead of the three courses they took with IHUM, we can have smaller class sizes,” he said. “We can have class sizes of 60 to 100 students, rather than the 250 that we saw in IHUM.

“What that means is that it is a more intimate experience for students, faculty and the fellows that are the section teaching staff for the course.”

Elam discussed several other new undergraduate programs, including Immersion in the Arts: Living in Culture (ITALIC), a yearlong residential program designed to showcase the arts as an essential part of scholarly and public life, and the future Stanford in New York, a pilot program scheduled to accept its first cohort of 20 juniors in autumn 2015.