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  Not-So-Great Expectations

One in two freshmen arrive at Johns Hopkins expecting to have an unsatisfactory student experience. And too many actually do, according to a report recently issued by an influential university commission. Administrators are listening... and taking steps to improve the quality of undergraduate education across the university.

By Dale Keiger
Photos by Mike Ciesielski

Opening photo: One of the first warm days in spring drew hundreds to "The Beach" in front of the MSE Library at Homewood. Students say they long for more campuswide opportunities like this to mix and mingle, to build community and school spirit. In many respects, Chris Cunico, who graduated last month, has been the sort of undergraduate Johns Hopkins University covets. Smart. Literate. Curious. Motivated. Engaged. He majored in philosophy, but followed his curiosity to science, math, and creative writing courses. He served on student council. He took advantage of opportunities to meet, befriend, and learn from people of different cultures. He respected his teachers, but didn't hesitate to question them. He got good grades, but wasn't consumed by the need for a gold-plated GPA achieved at any cost.

Says Cunico, "There are a lot of people who will ask you, 'If you could do it all again, would you pick Hopkins?' And I would say, 'No, but I know why I came and I picked up a lot of good lessons at this institution."

That answer troubles Hopkins administrators and faculty. . For several years, they've been hearing similar sentiments from alarming numbers of undergraduates who have come to believe that Hopkins doesn't care enough about the quality of their undergraduate experience. Students complain that they can spend four years at Homewood and never know a professor well enough to procure a meaningful letter of recommendation. They say that you hear all about the cherished seminar system, but if you're an engineering or science major you'll spend your time in large, impersonal lecture classes. That you will look in vain for a sense of student community, of school spirit. That you'll talk to friends at other schools who seem to be having a much better time than you are, and console yourself that a degree from Hopkins will open doors, provided you find some useful advice on where those doors might be.

This degree of disenchantment is not universal, or even the majority sentiment. Hopkins undergraduates, compared to students at peer institutions, report significantly greater satisfaction with opportunities to conduct research and present papers, with campus ethnic and racial diversity, and with their preparation for professional careers and graduate school. This past year, the university fielded a record number of applicants. Yet Hopkins' senior administration became sufficiently concerned by the level and passion of complaints that in January 2002, William Brody and Steven Knapp, university president and provost, respectively, created the Commission on Undergraduate Education and charged it with identifying "the core values that should characterize a Hopkins undergraduate experience."

Forty-two people were recruited for the commission, representing the five divisions that offer undergraduate education at Hopkins -- the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, Peabody Conservatory, the School of Nursing, and the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education (SPSBE). Commission members included faculty, administrators, students (Cunico was one), alumni, and trustees. They were led initially by Ralph Kuncl, who was then vice provost for undergraduate education. When Kuncl left Hopkins in mid-2002 to become provost at Bryn Mawr College, Paula Burger, vice provost for academic affairs and international programs, took over as the commission's chair.

"There was a sense that good undergraduate education would just sort of trickle down from good graduate education," says Paula Burger. "I think that's not the case." CUE organized itself into four working groups -- Academic Experience, Advising and Career Support, Diversity, and Student Life. It studied reports from peer institutions and national associations. It examined data from the 2002 Consortium on Financing Higher Education senior survey, and the Hopkins College Student Experiences Questionnaire. It sought opinions from students, faculty, staff, and external consultants. It paid special attention to the written comments from Hopkins student surveys. After issuing an interim report in January, the commission held more than two dozen community meetings to discuss it.

Burger says members were sobered by what they learned. "We know there are students here who have wonderful experiences," she says. "You can go out on the Quad and find them. But I think the number who felt frustrated, who reflected significant stress, was higher than we had thought." CUE member Stuart Leslie, professor of history of science and technology, says, "I think all of us were struck by how much passion was there. It wasn't the usual 'I hate the food.' It was, 'I really want a different kind of experience.'"

The CUE interim report referred to written comments from students as "sometimes searing." To the dean of Arts and Sciences, Daniel Weiss, the message was clear: "We've drifted off our mission."

On May 15, CUE delivered its final report, and a verdict: The kids weren't just whining. They had valid complaints that Hopkins needed to address. The commission was succinct: "Notwithstanding the many positive aspects of our undergraduate programs, students' current levels of satisfaction with both their academic and social experiences at Johns Hopkins are lower than we should find acceptable and do not reflect the educational experience that the University can and should provide."

Concern for the quality of undergraduate education at research universities is not confined to Hopkins. Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania took hard looks at their undergraduate programs in 1994. The University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University did the same in 1998, Harvard in 2001, Yale in 2002. Five years ago, the Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University issued "Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities." That report's overview stated, "The research universities have too often failed, and continue to fail, their undergraduate populations. Tuition income from undergraduates is one of the major sources of university income, but the students paying the tuition get, in all too many cases, less than their money's worth."

Burger observes of Hopkins, "This institution began with a focus on graduate education and advanced studies, and that served undergraduate education well back when we had a much smaller program. The reality is the undergraduate program has grown significantly, and what worked well for a hardy band of young undergraduate scholars who wanted a rigorous graduate-style education doesn't work as well when you've got now 4,000 undergraduates on the Homewood campus and significant numbers in other areas. There was a sense that good undergraduate education would just sort of trickle down from good graduate education. I think that's not the case when you're dealing with the size we are now, and when students now have the expectations they do."

In the end, CUE made 34 recommendations. If most are followed, they promise to transform undergraduate education at Hopkins, especially at the two Homewood schools, Engineering and Arts and Sciences.

Imagine a freshman. For purposes of this discussion, this freshman will be mutable -- man or woman, white, black, Asian, or Hispanic, of varied majors and interests -- and will be known simply as J. Also for purposes of this discussion, J. is going to encounter just about everything that Hopkins undergraduates complain about. Think of him as a composite of disenchantment, not typical but illustrative.

As Burger notes, J. arrives as an incoming freshman with certain expectations. He -- and/or his parents -- has probably done comparison shopping for a school, and knows that Hopkins will provide a student arts center, a recreation center complete with climbing wall and squash courts, and an Internet connection in his dorm room. Regarding academics, J. expects to find small classes, the vaunted Hopkins seminar system, and opportunities to conduct real research with some of the world's foremost scholars and researchers, who will be teaching his classes. He anticipates earning a degree that will create opportunities for a good job, top-ranked graduate study, or admission to a premier medical school; he also anticipates cultivating mentors who will light his path.

There's also a 1-in-2 chance that J. does not expect to have a very good time. Of those in the 2002 freshman class at Hopkins, only 49.4 percent indicated that they expected to have a satisfactory student experience, versus a normative group at peer institutions of 67 percent, according to the 2002 Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey, cited by William Conley, dean of enrollment and academic services at Hopkins. Says Conley, "If we have a brand, it's as an intensely rigorous academic experience suited for the self-directed, self-motivated. If you take that and translate it behaviorally, what kind of kids would it attract? It would in all likelihood attract kids who can suffer for what they'll get out of it. They're willing, for the single-mindedness of their intent, to live a less fulfilling existence."

That less fulfilling existence may start early for J., especially if she's in certain disciplines. CUE's report said, "Unfortunately, the curriculum of many first-year Hopkins students reflects the need to make early progress on pre-medical or engineering requirements, and there is precious little opportunity to experience seminar-style learning." For J., that could mean finding herself shot straight into large lecture classes, a heavy workload of difficult, highly technical material, and little faculty contact aside from graduate teaching assistants. The transition from high school, where knowledge is conveyed, to Hopkins, where knowledge is created, may be abrupt and disorienting.

Gregory Ball, professor of psychological and brain sciences, chaired CUE's Academic Experience Working Group. He says, "It's surprising how many [new] students don't understand how qualitatively different the kind of instruction they're getting here is. It's important for them to get it, to be engaged in the first year in a kind of dialogue about texts, about scientific findings." He adds that students must adjust to a significantly different sort of teacher, as well. "This is going to sound pompous, but within his discipline, if a Hopkins faculty member says to you, 'I don't know,' it's very different than if a high-school teacher says it. If a Hopkins professor says, 'I don't know,' it means nobody knows. They're at the frontier of knowledge."

CUE addressed the first-year experience with two principal recommendations. Ball's group advocated expanding opportunities for first-year students to experience small classes that present education as exploration and inquiry, not just note-taking in a lecture hall. And the Student Life Working Group, chaired by Leslie, suggested finding ways to house all freshmen near the Alumni Memorial Residences, possibly on a freshman campus on the west side of Charles Street. This idea arose after the group noted that the most satisfied first-year students seem to be those who live not in Wolman and McCoy halls across Charles Street, but in the AMRs, the most traditional dorms, where first-year students say a strong sense of community develops.

Hopkins surveys indicate that freshmen move on to their second year comparatively satisfied. At Homewood they don't like the meal plan's food -- students at Peabody and Nursing voice the same complaint -- and some of them might still be shell-shocked from organic chemistry, but on the whole they're the most satisfied undergraduates. But if J., now a sophomore, is African American or Hispanic, he's probably noted that these ethnic groups are what CUE referred to as "underrepresented" -- among fellow students, among faculty and administrators, among the speakers invited to campus, and in cultural programming.

Robert Lawrence, professor of preventive medicine and associate dean for professional education programs at Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, chaired CUE's Diversity Working Group. He says, "We are in a city with a 65 percent African American population, and it would be hard to tell that if you were just strolling the corridors and sitting in the classrooms of our university."

"Students go through [some of the bigger] programs without having the signature Hopkins experience -- working closely with a faculty member in relation to research, or having very high quality, intellectually challenging small classes," says Gregory Ball. CUE found that majority students were pleased with campus diversity to a notably greater degree than similar students at peer institutions. But minority students tell a different story. Lea Ybarra, executive director and associate dean of Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth (CTY), says that some minorities feel the campus is not so welcoming for them. "They didn't feel there were a lot of diverse activities that reflected Latino or African American heritage," she says. "They felt that more diversity should have been reflected in the speakers and presentations. That would have made them feel that they are an integral part of the university."

The diversity work group recommended a goal for Hopkins: In five years, the university should be in the top decile of its peer group in the enrollment of underrepresented minority students. The group endorsed an admissions office proposal for a Baltimore Scholars Program to provide full scholarships to qualified graduates of Baltimore inner-city schools, and the development of linkages to diversity initiatives by CTY.

The group also called for greater recruitment of minority faculty. Lawrence says, "It's difficult. We're competing with universities that are willing to put together special packages to get distinguished, underrepresented minority faculty members." In March, Arts and Sciences dean Weiss announced a new Africana Studies Center that will offer courses in fall 2003, at first as a minor. He estimated that by the end of next year, Hopkins will have invested $20 million to $30 million in the project, primarily on joint faculty appointments, postdoctoral fellowships, and dedicated administrative support and office space. Arts and Sciences also has introduced a major in East Asian studies.

Ilene Busch-Vishniac, dean of Engineering, says, "The issue of diversity is easy to forget, and I am particularly delighted that it was a major issue addressed in the CUE report. I also believe that it is important to establish solutions that are sustainable and that address problems at their core rather than simply treating symptoms of problems."

If J. is majoring in engineering or one of the hard sciences, he has by now made the acquaintance of a Hopkins archetype: the intensely competitive, narrowly focused, seriously stressed undergrad who all but lives at the library and lab, and doesn't necessarily let ethics get in the way of progress toward his goal. Romance languages professor Walter Stephens, who worked on CUE, says, "Hopkins students really do work harder than at least 90 percent of American undergraduates. It's very competitive here. And there's a lot of parental pressure to succeed. It's a very expensive place" -- tuition is currently $28,730 per year at Homewood, less at the other schools -- "even for people on financial aid." Parents are not the only source of pressure. Says Burger, "Students jump a lot of hurdles that they've set up themselves, like taking six courses in a semester. There's a lot of packaging and résumé building that goes on."

Problems of academic integrity were something CUE could deal with straightforwardly. It simply recommended that faculty be more explicit with their students about issues of academic integrity: plagiarism, cheating on exams, deliberate ruining of classmates' lab work, collaboration on what are supposed to be individual papers or research reports.

The problem of the kid with a too-narrow focus, the premed, for example, who never takes advantage of a world-class humanities faculty, never takes poetry or philosophy or an art workshop -- that one's tougher.

Cunico, from a student's perspective, says, "The way you change the culture of the school is through the admissions office. I'm with these people [students] all the time, all day. Even the kids who you think at first are a little bit outside of the box say, 'I need to get my internship in New York so I can work there when I graduate, or in D.C.' Can't we get more kids who want to live in Nebraska growing food?"

CUE agreed, recommending a "leavening of the academic mix" by enrolling more students who want to be humanities majors, even if they're planning on medical school later. Says Conley, "If there were one word that I'd use to describe our goal [in admissions], it would be 'balance.' If we're going to have 35 percent premeds, let's have a better balance of those who say they'll be classics majors."

He also believes Hopkins needs to do more to inform students of the resources and opportunities to be found in its various departments -- opportunities that students will seize. "In today's world, the sense is that to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none means you're gonna' get left behind," he says. "There's this incredible pressure on kids to be highly evolved in some particular area. But I think there's still a basic desire to have a full life. So when they come to college campuses, I think the young people see this as their opportunity to do some things that weren't nurtured before."

To that end, Hopkins has poured resources into the Mattin Center, which provides space and equipment for painting and sculpture workshops, music and theater rehearsals, dance classes, and digital media production. The Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center has greatly expanded fitness opportunities. The Bunting-Meyerhoff Interfaith Center facilitates worship, education, and socializing among more than 20 campus religious groups. The Homewood campus calendar is filled with social and cultural events of every sort for students. There is an annual Hopkins film festival, Spring Fair, and the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium.

More students might participate in broader academic opportunities if they were better advised. CUE's Advising and Career Counseling Working Group found widespread disenchantment. Sandra Angell, associate dean for student affairs at the School of Nursing, chaired the group. She says, "In some areas, the role of the academic advisor has morphed into just someone who signs off on your registration forms. Students are asking for more. Students are quite hungry for contact with faculty at Hopkins. The professor of history who is your academic advisor should not have to worry so much about whether you have courses that meet your graduation requirements, but should be a wonderful person with whom to discuss what you can do with a degree in history. That's the part that the students want."

Says Cunico '03, "I think a lot of students feel forsaken by the faculty. There isn't a vested interest on the part of faculty to talk to students. And I think a lot of times the faculty feel that students don't care, either." CUE recommended being more explicit about the faculty's obligation to be good advisors, and improving communication among the various people and entities responsible for advising. Says Stephens, "There has to be a top-down message that advising undergraduates is a big part of what we do, and if you're good at it there are certain rewards, and if you blow it off, certain rewards may not come your way."

Angell notes that students share blame for a lack of better counseling. "It was obvious that there are a lot of students who don't understand how to nurture an advising relationship," she says. "I think that some students are just very reluctant to approach faculty. Or they don't do simple things like make an appointment. They just show up at somebody's office and if the door's closed, say, 'Okay, I tried.'"

J. makes it to her junior year. Before she can start classes in the fall, she has a new challenge: she needs a place to live. Hopkins currently makes little provision for housing upperclassmen, and some students interpret this not as an opportunity for greater independence but as an institutional cold shoulder.

Says Cunico, "We get kicked off after two years. You have a bunch of 19- or 20-year-old kids told, 'Go find a place to live.'" So J. finds an apartment to rent somewhere off campus, and begins to feel more and more apart from campus life. Undergraduates told CUE that they lack places to hang out and mingle in their free time. That there are myriad student groups to join, but they tend to be narrowly focused and don't promote overall school spirit. That there aren't enough campuswide events to draw everyone together, not enough shared traditioins that form long-term bonds. Burger believes that Hopkins has a problem in this area. "Kids are really high on Penn now," she says. "Stanford has no problem with school spirit. Duke has an extraordinarily strong sense of community. So the problem is not endemic to a research university."

Leslie says of students, "They have a genuine affection for the institution. They're glad to be here, they think they're getting an excellent education. But they don't think they have full and balanced lives. So there's a feeling of isolation from each other, from the faculty, from the community. They don't feel that they've created the kind of bond you find at other places, where you're, you know, Princeton '08 for the rest of your life."

CUE's final report said forcefully, "The single most important undergraduate need at Johns Hopkins is to strengthen the sense of community." It identified two significant factors that undercut a deeper sense of undergraduate community. One is the de facto requirement that juniors and seniors move off campus. Students told the commission that there is strong interest among juniors and seniors for an expanded system of university housing that would let them continue to live on or beside campus. Ninety percent said they would be likely to choose university facilities were they available. CUE made this one of its primary recommendations. It also suggested exploring the feasibility of accommodating Nursing, Peabody, and SPSBE undergraduates in Homewood residential options. The commission recommended experimenting with residential colleges, including having faculty living on the premises.

Some change is already planned. The Charles Village Project, slated to begin in mid-2004, will bring retail spaced anchored by a bookstore, mixed use space, and new student housing to the block north of East 33rd Street between Charles and St. Paul. Ivy Hall, currently home to 48 students, will be replaced by housing for 500.

Says Burger, "My sense has always been that you bring all these bright students to a place, and part of their education is the educational impact that the student body has on itself. If people are drifting away to apartments, they shortchange themselves on enjoying some of the diversity of experience."

The other major detriment to community, said the commission, is Hopkins' peculiar class schedule. At Homewood, most classes meet on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. (Conley refers to this as "binge learning.") Come Thursday, many undergrads disperse to their various apartments, in what sociology professor Andrew Cherlin calls "the student diaspora," not to return to campus until Monday. Peabody students in particular complain about the difficulty of taking classes at Homewood because it doesn't offer enough courses at times available to them. Wen-Shan Chen, a Peabody undergraduate who served on CUE, says, "Many [Peabody] students hope there will be more night classes at Homewood. Some friends of mine are always complaining that they have to sacrifice some classes that they really want to take." The Homewood semester is also one week shorter than semesters at most peer institutions, intensifying pressure on students.

No one seems to know why the Homewood schools schedule classes this way. Many question its wisdom. Says Leslie, "No one has ever offered a pedagogical argument in favor of the schedule we have. I think there's a good reason why nobody else in the country uses the schedule we use."

CUE's interim report advocated changing the schedule to bring more students to campus on Thursdays and Fridays. That attracted a lot of debate. Some faculty members read it as literally mandating that they would have to take, say, a twice-weekly 75-minute course and refashion it into a thrice-weekly 50-minute course. They also expressed concern about what a schedule change might do to their productivity as scholars and researchers; they covet the availability of four consecutive free days for research, travel, and use of instrumentation at other locations. CUE's report reiterates the commission's conviction that the schedule should be changed, and suggests further study of the issue. Says Burger, "The commission remains pretty convinced that decompressing the academic work week is something that would improve the experience for students."

The commission also recommended providing more interdivisional programming and intramural athletics, and upgrading the food service so that more students will come together over the dinner table or snack bar.

By his senior year, if J. is going to become disenchanted, it's probably already happened. Conley notes that as students progress, more and more become dissatisfied. The pessimists, he ruefully concedes, have had their pessimism validated. "Somebody said to me, 'The problem is we're not delivering on the students' expectations.' I said, 'No, the problem is we're meeting the students' expectations. They're expecting to have a less fulfilling experience, and we're delivering that." Adds dean of students Susan Boswell, "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they come in not expecting to have fun, then they don't."

One source of growing disillusionment is that, depending on J.'s major, he may still be waiting to work closely with one of Hopkins' world-class scholars or researchers. Says Greg Ball, "Students go through [some of the bigger] programs without having the signature Hopkins experience -- working closely with a faculty member in relation to research, or having very high quality, intellectually challenging small classes. Especially in the life sciences, broadly defined, and some of the related sciences." Says the CUE report: "As a rough guideline, we propose that every student be able to take at least two courses in his/her major in which enrollment is not more than 20."

Says Boswell, "I think students are really looking for those opportunities to interact and develop relationships with adults that they respect. It's so sad when I talk to a senior who can't name a faculty member whom they can ask for a recommendation."

Many undergraduates also believe that too many faculty couldn't care less about this lack of personal contact. The CUE report states, "One of the most disturbing findings by the Commission is the extent to which many students perceive that no one cares." Cunico says, "I think a lot of students feel forsaken by the faculty. There isn't a vested interest on the part of faculty to talk to students. And I think a lot of times the faculty feel that students don't care, either. You know, 'I posted office hours and no one came.' I don't think it's so much that students don't care as that they're just swamped with work. An extra hour with a faculty member will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. I can't afford that sometimes."

Ball points out that faculty at a research university face daunting pressures. They are expected to excel as teachers without compromising research. "There are stresses," he says. "I'll give you an example. I sit on various grant review committees. [On one of them] there's 26 scientists in my field, which is biological bases of behavior. Everyone is PhD level. Three of us are at undergraduate institutions. Everyone else is at a medical school, research institute, drug companies, this kind of stuff. When they wake up in the morning, they think about their research. They go to bed at night and think about their research. That's all they do. Now I compete with these people. I may have a problem in my lab, but I also have a class to teach, and I have a kid in my office who doesn't know what to do with his life. This is how you're torn. The bar for research excellence definitely has been rising, so the expectations [for] faculty have gone up. Now we're saying the expectations on teaching have to go up, too!" He notes that most of Hopkins' biomedical engineering faculty have primary faculty appointments at the School of Medicine, which limits their available teaching time: they take substantial salary from grants, which by contract require them to devote a certain percentage of their time to the grant-funded research.

But Ball concedes, "There's still a little too much teaching-as-a-necessary-evil in the culture." CUE recommended assigning a senior-level administrator in the office of every school's dean to assure the quality of undergraduate education. Arts and Sciences has already moved ahead with one such appointment, making Paula Burger its vice dean for undergraduate education (she will remain vice provost for academic affairs, making her twice viced). The commission also called for each academic department to appoint a director of undergraduate education; establishment of more "capstone" courses that allow seniors the chance to work on a final project that brings together all they've learned in their major; increased support for teaching effectiveness; and more incentives for good teaching. The report said, "Various other ways must be found to attach greater value to and show respect for the work of faculty who are devoted to teaching.... While there now exist some of the customary teaching awards common on many campuses, the divisions should be certain that appropriate recognition is accorded those who attain teaching excellence through rewards as well as awards."

As winter gives way to spring, J. may be thinking not about graduate or medical school but about employment. Undergraduates surveyed by CUE complained about the level of Hopkins career counseling. Cunico says his own experience was not good: "You go to the career center, and they say, 'Unless you want to be a lawyer, a doctor, or a banker, we don't have much for you.' That's unbelievably frustrating." The few job fairs that he attended didn't provide much. "I walked through and there wasn't anything for me. I don't want to join the Peace Corps, I don't want to join the Army, and I'm not an engineer, so it's pointless to talk to Lockheed Martin."

Stuart Leslie says of students, "They're glad to be here, they think they're getting an excellent education. But they don't think they have full and balanced lives. So there's a feeling of isolation." The commission agreed that there needs to be more access to professional career guidance, better communication among the various career support offices, advisors, and coordinators, and more effort to enlist alumni in a support network for undergraduates.

Says Angell, "There are lots of other schools that have really, really active alumni organizations that work closely with career services offices to provide internships and help students network." She adds, "I think all the Hopkins divisions felt their career services offices needed to be improved, at least at the time CUE was undertaken. At the beginning of the project, several had interim or no directors, and open staff positions. I was gratified to see that attention has already been focused on this in all divisions, and positive changes are under way."

So... when J. graduates, is he going to tell friends, siblings, and parents that four years at Hopkins were a great experience? Or a valuable experience that, nevertheless, given the choice, he wouldn't repeat? The CUE report could lead to a pessimistic prediction, but it must be noted that the commission's job was to root out problems, not provide a comprehensive state-of-the-institution report. In its final report, CUE said, "Hopkins students are offered a wide array of outstanding academic programs. Students who anticipate later graduate or professional study are prepared exceedingly well." Says Burger, "We're talking about taking something that's excellent and making it even better."

J.'s personal satisfaction may depend on his major, and his school. CUE's report devoted much of its attention to Homewood's problems, because that's where most undergraduates enroll, and the commission had more and better data about Homewood students. Peabody undergraduates expressed a desire for a greater sense of community, for example, but tended not to complain about class size; individual instruction is the norm there, and students form close relationships with faculty. Nursing students voiced concerns about security in their East Baltimore surroundings and a desire for more communal space and more involvement with the Homewood campus, but praised their school's "capstone" clinical experiences; they had fewer complaints about career counseling, perhaps because nursing jobs are so plentiful. At Homewood, humanities majors tend to have greater access to small seminars, and to faculty who become mentors. But there's sufficient chance that J. will leave Hopkins unenthusiastic about her experience to make the university serious about retooling the undergraduate experience.

Many of the changes that CUE has recommended will take effect only if sufficient resources can be brought to bear. Says Leslie, "How much will we be able to accomplish and how soon? That's hard to say. Changes in the schedule can be done with a simple pen stroke. A residential college system is a multi-multi-million-dollar investment. That's not going to happen unless someone steps forward and says, 'I'm so committed to this I'm going to give you $20 million to build one.'"

Hopkins will not only need resources but commitment from its disparate parts, especially from its faculty. Angell, for one, thinks it will get it: "Sitting around the table were a lot of faculty, and I really sensed a commitment to make sure the major recommendations were taken seriously and enacted." Busch-Vishniac adds, "Many of the recommendations relate to items that we already had on the table. Others are new for us. Clearly, the report should be seen as a call for action, and we are deeply committed to responding appropriately."

Says Weiss: "I think of undergraduates as members of our community who are disenfranchised. We have an obligation to reconnect with them. After we've done that, if they don't like this or they don't like that, they can go to another institution. But until we get to that level of achievement, our mandate is clear."

To which Boswell adds, "Wouldn't it be great if undergraduates find this is a better place than they thought it was going to be?"

Return to June 2003 Table of Contents

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