Submit your "frank assessment" of IHUM

![](http://www.stanford.edu/dept/undergrad/ihum/images/Home_Background.gif "IHUM")
IHUM
In an email to all students last night, the new Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education asked for our “frank assessment” of our IHUM experience. The Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES) will use our responses as they decide the future of IHUM, among other things. (*The Review* has covered SUES and its IHUM review several times: [last January](http://blog.stanfordreview.org/2010/01/08/the-other-senate-stanford-sues/), [last April](http://stanfordreview.org/article/new-committee-to-reevaluate-undergraduate-education), [last May](http://stanfordreview.org/article/curriculum-review-seeks-student-input), [twice](http://stanfordreview.org/article/ihum-gets-no-respect-and-rightly-so) in [September](http://blog.stanfordreview.org/2010/09/14/ihum-needs-to-change/), and [a few weeks ago](http://blog.stanfordreview.org/2010/11/01/making-the-grade-in-ihum/).)

To submit your feedback, use this link (from the email): https://www.stanford.edu/group/ihum/cgi-bin/auth/SelfStudy2010_01_Login.cgi.

Here’s an excerpt from my feedback. The rest is below the fold. Post yours in the comments!

The new class(es) should have a binding referendum of the students at the end of each term on the question: “Should this class be offered again next year?” If less than N% of students vote yes, then the class should be canceled (where N is between 50 and 33.). One reason why such a poor program as IHUM has continued for so long is that it’s disconnected from the market signals of students’ class choices. It has a monopoly, and the students choosing which individual course offering to take have very little information (relative to the information students have when making any other class choice). Not only would this eliminate the worst required freshman course offerings, but it would also improve the quality of the surviving courses by subjecting to them to some small degree of competition.

Here’s my full submission.

For me, IHUM was a de-introduction from the humanities. IHUM was excruciating. I went into Stanford planning to major in history, and IHUM quickly changed my mind (I’m a CS major now). I couldn’t stand the thought of writing one more humanities paper or having one more mindless discussion on a book nobody had really read.

The good thing is that I only had to do minimal work for the class, attending few lectures and finishing papers the night before, to get Bs and B+s. If you view the ability of experts in a field to distinguish good work from B.S. as an indicator of the field’s rigor and value, as I do, then you can see why this (perhaps unfairly) made me think the entire field was worthless.

I avoided humanities classes (despite largely positive experiences in PWR) until this year when I took Justice, which is an excellent class and is what I think the freshman requirement could resemble. It’s similar to IHUM in that most people are taking it to satisfy GERs, not purely out of interest, but unlike IHUM, people love it. (I am not alone in feeling this way, but I only want to speak for myself here.) If I had a good freshman experience in the humanities, I probably would have minored in philosophy and had a much richer experience at Stanford. Instead, it’s only near the end of my time at Stanford that I am beginning to understand the value of the humanities.

So, what should Stanford do? I have two suggestions: either make the new freshman requirement narrower like PWR and introsems, or make it broader like Justice. No matter what, IHUM as we know it should be eliminated.

  1. More like PWR and introsems. There would be a much, much larger set of classes to pick from. Require students to take 3 or 4 in their freshman year. Maybe require students to take one whose content is humanities based.

  2. More like Justice. Philosophy seems to be the area of humanities with the broadest appeal to students of all majors. It is also extremely valuable. That’s why a single Justice-like class could replace the current IHUMs. Of course, it probably resembles Western Civ too much for this ever to become reality.

Here are some suggestions for structural changes that you should implement regardless of your decision about the content of the new freshman requirements. I think structural changes like these are more important in the long run than the other changes you will make.

  1. The new class(es) should have a binding referendum of the students at the end of each term on the question: “Should this class be offered again next year?” If less than N% of students vote yes, then the class should be canceled (where N is between 50 and 33.). One reason why such a poor program as IHUM has continued for so long is that it’s disconnected from the market signals of students’ class choices. It has a monopoly, and the students choosing which individual course offering to take have very little information (relative to the information students have when making any other class choice). Not only would this eliminate the worst required freshman course offerings, but it would also improve the quality of the surviving courses by subjecting to them to some small degree of competition.

  2. Classes should be taught by individual professors or lecturers, not team-taught by two professors. This means they’ll have to be more personally committed to the course, which will improve quality. It also strengthens the feedback loop that my structural suggestion #1 above would introduce. Find a better way than having two professors to make the courses interdisciplinary, if making them such is a requirement for you.

Quinn Slack
Computer Science, B.S. 2011

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