A&S to hear underload proposal

The Arts and Sciences Council will consider at its meeting today a new underloading policy that would allow undergraduates to enroll in three classes for at most two semesters beginning Fall 2009.

The policy would require students to have passed at least 16 courses before underloading, which would generally allow only juniors and seniors to lower their class load. Additionally, students must be in good academic standing with at least a 3.0 grade point average and a declared major.

"The purpose of this is to empower students to plan ahead and view their four years as something of a portfolio," said Peter Feaver, chair of the Academic Standards Committee, a subcommittee of the Arts and Sciences Council. "The purpose of it is not to make Duke easier for a student."

Feaver, Alexander F. Hehmeyer professor of political science, will present the policy at the council meeting today, and members will vote on the proposal at their next meeting Dec. 4. If passed, the policy would be evaluated after three years.

Currently, only seniors entering their last semester at Duke may underload. Students can withdraw from a class and lower their semester load at the discretion of their academic deans.

An original, looser proposal was submitted to Steve Nowicki, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and other administrators November 2007 by senior David Graham, editor of The Chronicle from 2007-2008, who has been the Duke Student Publishing Company's liaison on the matter. Duke Student Government President Paul Slattery, Trinity '08, other members also sent a memo to administrators last year calling for a more accommodating policy.

"Like the Trinity deans, we agree that the overriding purpose of being at Duke is getting a top-flight education," said Graham, who is currently the editor of Recess. "But we also recognize that there are a lot of experiences that students have at Duke that are extremely intellectually and educationally enriching that don't take place in the classroom and don't take place in the lab either."

The original proposal did not limit the number of semesters a student could underload, or what academic year the applicant was, as long as they met continuation requirements to remain enrolled at Duke.

Initially, academic deans were primarily concerned that a policy allowing for looser underloading would make the Duke degree seem less valuable, said Norman Keul, an associate dean of Trinity College and a member of the 12-person Academic Standards Committee. He noted, however, that most deans, including the three on the committee, support the current proposal as an effective compromise.

"It's not that we [deans] as a group were 'a priori' unhappy with considering it, but we were anxious that if a change was made that it didn't undermine Duke's reputation as a serious school, and that students wouldn't have to worry if they underloaded that this might adversely affect their ability to get into medical schools and law schools," Keul said.

Junior Chelsea Goldstein, DSG's vice president for academic affairs and the DSG representative on the Academic Standards Committee, said the proposal will receive a favorable response from faculty members, noting that Suzanne Shanahan, chair of the Arts and Sciences Council, is very optimistic that it will pass. Shanahan could not be reached for comment.

Nowicki and Donna Lisker, associate dean of undergraduate education, submitted an initial compromise taking into account deans' "first and foremost" request to limit the number of semesters a student could underload, Goldstein said. The original proposal allowed undergraduates to underload two semesters, not counting other semesters in which they withdraw from a class. The Academic Standards Committee then modified the policy to include a withdrawal during a semester to count as an underload.

Feaver said the committee thought it was unlikely that a looser policy would lessen the quality of a Duke degree, particularly because several peer institutions like Harvard University and Princeton University have fewer restrictions than Duke on underloading. He added that ultimately, the committee was looking to best support students who have the desire and drive to undertake time-consuming extracurricular activities.

"This is about a student who is entrepreneurial and has the initiative to get ahead to allocate their burden across their eight semesters," he said.

Nowicki said he, too, believes the proposed policy is the best compromise between the greater allowance student leaders were asking for and administrator concerns. Graham said he fully supports the policy and hopes it will pass, although his primary contention with the compromise is that it limits student eligibility.

The Chronicle Leadership Assistance Program, which is in its 41st year and allows editors to underload and maintain full-time student status by taking summer classes, will end this year. Leaders of DSG, the Duke University Union and other student organizations benefited from a similar policy, the Student Affairs Leadership Assistance Program, until it was ended prior to Fall 2006.


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