Undergraduate Student Learning Initiative

Undergraduate Study Learning Initiative (USLI) Report (revised, Nov. 6, 2008)

Department of English

University of California, Berkeley

Statement: The study of literature is not about canonical books or established facts, but about a process of interpretation and analysis, a process that begins in the classroom and develops over a lifetime. Upon completion of a B.A. degree in English, students should have well-developed writing and research skills as well as the ability to assess and appreciate language and literature in both professional and personal realms. Our primary means of evaluating students is through reading their papers in which we judge the originality and coherence of their argument, the clarity of their prose, the marshalling of textual evidence, and the imaginative intensity and scope of their engagement with the material. Because papers and classroom discussion are central to our assessment of student work, it is difficult to trust any standardized measure of evaluation that focuses on an established core base of knowledge (something that is itself always in flux), rather than critical and imaginative capacities. For those undergraduates who wish to pursue graduate education in literature, there is already the GRE Subject Test that tests only a small portion of what students learn. Assessment of student learning outcomes, however, is not reducible to one test. In fact, it is the variety and range of interpretive approaches and the originality of thinking that we value that is impossible to assess in any single standardized examination. As the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE) notes in its Statement on Assessment (2008), assessment is best when it is comprised of “locally based, faculty-driven efforts to define and measure the skills and capacities that each institution emphasizes to meet its educational goals.”


USLI Report



The following courses address all three goals above: English 45A, 45B, 45C, 105, 110, 112, 114A-B, 115A-B, 116, 119, 120, 121, 122, 125A-B, 125C, 125D, 125E, 126, 127, 128, 130A, 130B, 130C, 130D, 134;

Courses: English 133A, 133B, 133T, 135AC, C136, 137A, 137B, 137T, 138, 139, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 176, 177, 178, 179.


With the exception of creative writing courses, all English classes develop all the skills noted above.

Path to Goals

Prerequisite to Declaring Major (required by English Department and College of L&S)

Foundational courses

Core course

Lower-Division Seminars

Lower-Division Courses

Independent Study Courses

Courses on specific historical periods and nations

Courses on specific American Cultures

Courses on specific authors*

*Single author courses may also be offered as English 165 or 190.

Courses on specific literary genres

Courses on theory*

*Theory is often taught as central to, or a component of, literature courses.

Courses in the English language and its history

Courses with cross-disciplinary emphases

Courses on Special Topics

Courses in Creative Writing

Capstone course/s


English 190 is taught almost always by ladder-rank faculty and is limited to 25 students. The idea is for students to delve deeply into a subject in which they are seriously interested, to write at least 20 pages of an academic paper, to engage in scholarly discussions in the classroom community, and to develop an intimate working relationship with a professor.

English 195A-B, the year-long Honors seminar, is a demanding course designed for only the best students, usually those who are considering going to graduate school. The first semester is devoted to reading literary and/or cultural theory and to researching a thesis topic. The second semester is devoted to writing a 40-60-page honors thesis. Like the 190, the Honors seminar gives students the opportunity to research and write about a topic of their choice, to prepare for and participate in classroom discussions and presentations, and to develop a professional working relationship with two professors—the instructor and a thesis adviser.

Communication with Students

The English Department makes available a comprehensive set ofprinted materials that explain the English major requirements. The same materials are available on the English Department website:

In addition, the English Department has two full-time staff members who advise students on a regular basis: a Student Services Advisor, Ken Mahru, and a Curriculum Coordinator, Laurie Kerr. All faculty members advise students, but each semester 4-6 faculty members are assigned advising duties. During their official time as Faculty Advisors, faculty hold additional office hours each week devoted exclusively to advising students.

Finally, the English Undergraduate Association (EUA) has members who serve as liaisons between students and faculty. Leaders in EUA often serve on key departmental committees where they contribute undergraduate perspectives and recommendations to the faculty and communicate what they learn to other undergraduates.

Evaluation of Goals