The academic affairs part of the self-study, which relies heavily on the work of the Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Academic Affairs and its subcommittees, examines the academic experience of NYU’s undergraduates under 12 topics.
The report reviews the various general education requirements at NYU, ranging from the distributional models at the College of Dentistry, the Ehrenkranz School of Social Work, the McGhee Division of SCPS, and the Tisch School of the Arts to the more prescribed programs of the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, the General Studies Program of SCPS, and the Morse Academic Plan (MAP) of the College of Arts and Science (CAS). The MAP, adopted to varying degrees also by the Steinhardt School of Education, the Stern School of Business, and the Cinema Studies Program at Tisch, represents the most ambitious effort of the past decade to provide a common, coherent, and challenging general education for the majority of NYU’s undergraduates. In its fullest form (in CAS) the MAP includes expository writing, foreign language, and courses in humanities, social science, quantitative reasoning, and natural science. With courses that are specifically designed for nonmajors, the MAP has greater coherence than a distributional requirement; in addition, MAP courses are taught only by tenured or tenure-track faculty and all are enhanced by small recitation or laboratory sections. The Academic Affairs Committee’s finding that the goals of the MAP are not always fully understood or articulated by its various constituencies is probably true of the other general education models at NYU as well. Other challenges include improving specific courses, capitalizing further on NYU’s intellectual diversity, aligning general education more closely with departmental resources and intellectual agenda, dealing with TA shortages, and increasing the connections between general education and other aspects of the curriculum. Finally, given NYU’s intellectual diversity, the question remains to what extent there should be a common platform for all undergraduate schools.
Along with a general education that provides breadth of perspectives and foundational skills, NYU’s schools also ensure that all students achieve significant depth in at least one discipline or area through completion of a major. The more than 140 discrete undergraduate majors at NYU differ greatly from one another, sometimes even within a school. The self-study necessarily restricts itself to identifying several challenges that cross programs, departments, and schools. One challenge is to continue efforts to build connections between the major and general education curricula. Another is to use learning outcomes assessment plans to ensure that majors remain intellectually current and challenging, are structured with sufficient verticality, and provide for a meaningful capstone experience. Apparent redundancies involving programs in different schools are being studied to determine whether they make curricular and financial sense. Finally, some schools’ generous policies on the number of transfer credits accepted toward their degree are being reconsidered.
In keeping with its research mission, NYU strives, whenever possible, to include undergraduates in the production of knowledge. Given its intellectual diversity, one of NYU’s strengths, research on the part of undergraduates necessarily varies widely in nature, context, and extent within as well as across NYU’s schools. The report describes the substantial progress in promoting undergraduate research that has been made over the past decade. The primary challenge is to encourage and enable even more students to become directly involved in research activities and to create more incentives and reduce disincentives for faculty to mentor undergraduates, including those from underrepresented groups. To enhance participation, schools should also develop clearinghouses for information on available opportunities and establish or increase financial support for student research projects.
The University is committed to connecting with the community in formal and informal ways that include a broad spectrum of internships and public service activities. The report mentions some of the challenges raised by the extraordinary array of practical, experiential learning opportunities available to students in New York City. One is for the schools to embed service learning, which has tended to be largely a co-curricular activity, into a broader range of courses. Another, more pressing challenge is to find ways to help students take fuller advantage of attractive internship opportunities when external providers require that they receive academic credit.
Interrelations of Schools and Individualized Study
The report finds that the variety of intellectual styles, philosophical methods, and practical orientations of the eight undergraduate schools is a great strength of NYU. Of course, this diversity can set up a certain tension between the desire to maintain the mission and spirit of each school and the development of a strong sense of community University-wide. One manifestation of this is the difficulty that some students report in seeking access to offerings of other schools. Relations between the schools take the form mainly of cross-registration in individual courses, cross-school majors and minors, dual-degree programs, and internal transfers. The report recommends ensuring that no undue barriers impede such activities. It also recommends exploring ways to expand opportunities for individualized study, to allow non-Gallatin students, too, to receive the benefits of access to appropriate individually tailored majors.
As part of its global mission, NYU aims to give as many of its students as possible, regardless of major, opportunities to study abroad, whether in its own programs or at a university with which it has an exchange agreement. An ongoing challenge at each NYU site abroad is to get faculty more directly involved in ensuring across-the-board quality, developing programs, and providing thematic foci for the curriculum. Financial issues include offering departments replacement funds for full-time faculty temporarily lost to teaching in programs abroad, and devising strategies for increasing fall enrollments at sites abroad to balance the distribution of the student body more equitably between the fall and spring semesters.
Academic Advising, Mentoring, and Support Services
The different missions of the schools have led to a variety of approaches to the advising of undergraduates, including centralized advising centers, faculty mentors, and administrative staff advisers. School-based academic support programs are supplemented by an array of University-wide services for all students. Surveys suggest that many students feel that they do not have enough access to faculty as advisers and mentors. Since efforts to promote faculty mentoring must start in the classroom, where personal relationships can be built on intellectual interests, it is important to assign full-time faculty to classes wherever appropriate. At the same time, ways should also be found to increase faculty involvement in the more formal advising structure as well as in co-curricular programs where students live and study.
The Library’s ongoing program of assessment and communication with users aims to identify and respond to their needs, improve services to diverse groups, and build communities of users. Providing undergraduates instruction in research skills at the right points of their intellectual development is a continuing challenge. A newer challenge is to make students more aware of the enormously expanded electronic resources and, even more importantly, how to use them discriminatingly. At the same time that web-based services need further development, the physical spaces of Bobst Library need a renovation that reflects the undergraduate populations and their varied modes of study, research, and social interaction.
The report cites some of the notably expanded and upgraded services that NYU’s Information Technology Services has provided the academic community. But the rapid development and availability of new technology has also created a variety of challenges: accommodating growth in the faculty’s use of such basic technology as Blackboard without multiplying support resources at the same rate; improving the design and delivery of education and awareness programs for students; making the Student Information System more flexible and user-friendly; and continuing to create and support more technology-enhanced classrooms, while expediting the delivery of equipment to underequipped rooms.
This section of the self-study, dealing with the availability, appropriateness, and physical condition of classrooms, depends heavily on the findings and recommendations of the University Presidential Transition Team (March 2002). Large increases in the numbers of students and of courses have led to shortages of adequate classroom space. Efforts to maximize the use of existing space are necessary, such as enforcing minimum enrollments in courses and requiring that, wherever possible, a modular class schedule, less popular hours, and Fridays be used for instruction. The system for matching rooms with course or instructor requirements and for supplying appropriate equipment to rooms also needs to be coordinated better across the University.
The self-study affirms the importance of putting regular faculty in the undergraduate classroom wherever appropriate. Studies are underway at the University to examine the present and desirable teaching allocations. In addition, individual schools have been required to submit plans for assessing student learning outcomes and for using the results in planning and resource allocation. The report then focuses on the quality of teaching, which is supported, among other efforts, by the Center for Teaching Excellence and by University and school teaching awards. All schools at NYU also have methods for evaluating courses and instructors. A centralized evaluation process might increase the number of courses assessed and permit the pooling of experience and economies of scale. Further measures of teaching effectiveness that supplement student evaluations should also be devised and a formal mechanism for reviewing assessments and dealing with deficiencies should be developed.
Diversity and Engagement
NYU has a very diverse student body in terms of ethnicity, geographic origin, economic background, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation. The University is committed to promoting this diversity even further by increasing the proportion of students of color, perhaps by means of a revised financial aid strategy. Although the percentage of minorities and women on the faculty has also been rising, the faculty is not as diverse as the student body. The University must continue to explore not only more effective ways of recruiting a diverse faculty but also strategies for increasing the number of minority undergraduates interested in entering academic life. With increased diversity necessarily comes the challenge of integrating undergraduates’ academic and social experience, so that students and faculty can learn from people of different backgrounds. This goal can be addressed by developing incentives for greater faculty participation in advising and in co-curricular activities, and by increasing the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty in appropriate courses.