Supporting Undergraduate Success: A Conversation with Scott Saul on the Impact of the L&S Executive Committee

February 29, 2024

Serving nearly two-thirds of the undergraduates on campus, the College of Letters & Science (L&S) stands as the cornerstone of undergraduate excellence at UC Berkeley. While many valuable committees serve this population, the L&S Executive Committee (EC) holds a singular responsibility, formally charged with “the general oversight of the welfare and instruction of the students of the College.” Embracing diversity of thought and experience, the EC is a model for collaborative governance, helping shape the future of undergraduate education at Berkeley. 

Scott Saul is a professor of English and currently serves as the Chair of the L&S Executive Committee. With the EC’s upcoming election on April 12, 2024, Scott sheds light on the critical role of the committee and its far-reaching impact on undergraduate education and departmental vitality. 

What is the mission of the L&S Executive Committee (EC)?

Scott: I believe that the L&S EC has been in existence since time immemorial – since the College of L&S was established. It was imagined to be a central, deliberative body formed by faculty in the spirit of shared governance, with the mission of promoting the intellectual welfare of our undergraduate students. 

At Berkeley, we have other parts of the university that tend to aspects of students’ emotional and physical well-being, such as counseling or housing services. But when it comes to their intellectual well-being, the EC has been deputized to consider, “How can we create structures within the College of Letters & Science that allow undergraduate minds to flourish?”

Why does L&S need an Executive Committee?

The College of Letters & Science serves a lot of students, to say the least, within a complex ecology of divisions, departments, and programs.

At L&S, individual departments think through how to develop their students’ minds vis-a-vis their own disciplines, as they should. The EC is there to observe how the different parts are functioning, and to ensure that there is fairness and equity in decision-making. It may seem like these are bureaucratic labors, but the EC actually has a powerful effect on how our undergraduates make their way through the College, and what they take away from their experience. 

Why did you choose to serve on the EC?

I started serving on the EC about ten years ago, in 2014. In my first few years, the EC acted more as a care-taking committee, dealing with what felt like a more steady-state system. The landscape has changed significantly over the past decade, and there are enormous pressures bearing down on undergraduate education, here and elsewhere. 

Today, the EC is a place where faculty come together to proactively manage some of these issues. The Committee has representation from across the College: life sciences, mathematical and physical sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. We’re trying to consider these issues from different disciplinary perspectives while also taking into account the range of situations in which students find themselves. 

Can you provide an example of how the EC influences student success?

One major example is that we are officially in charge of setting and administering the L&S breadth requirements, which are meant to help our students develop their many intellectual capacities across their time at Cal. We’re excited to be working with the L&S Futures Project on the re-imagining of these requirements so that they are attuned to the needs of our students and to the demands of our own educational moment. 

You mentioned that the EC includes broad representation. Why is it important to have a committee that reflects the diversity of our college and campus?

Every department has its own ecology and set of educational aspirations as well as challenges. For us to have the highest quality of deliberation within our committee, it’s important to have representation from all over. Ideally, the EC is able to look at and consider important issues from a number of different angles. 

I’ve served on several different Senate committees at Berkeley over the years. In my experience, the EC has been best at generating powerful conversations across disciplines. It is a space where people come together because everybody believes in the potential power of the undergraduate intellectual experience — the power of the undergraduate curriculum to ignite students’ minds. 

We also aim to take into account that, just as there’s an incredible variety of disciplines across L&S, there’s an incredible variety of students across L&S. There are so many different paths to this institution, for instance. There’s a difference between the path that people take when they come here as first years versus the path to come here as junior transfers. We need to make sure that the undergraduate intellectual experience serves everybody. So that's part of the committee’s focus: when we pressure-test proposals that come our way, we give a great deal of consideration to how different kinds of students are affected. We want to see undergraduate programs where everybody is thriving. 

Are there specific topics or issues on the horizon for the EC?

I think L&S Futures, the multi-year project I mentioned earlier, will be a significant topic. When the recommendations are put forward, it will be the EC that has to deliberate and approve them. I think that will be an incredible opportunity to define what is at the heart of an L&S undergraduate education. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with L&S faculty members?

The impact of the EC is not only about undergraduates flourishing; it’s also about departments flourishing. For faculty invested in nurturing both their departments and undergraduate students, this is the perfect opportunity to serve and make a difference. 

The EC has been deputized to consider, How can we create structures within the College of Letters & Science that allow undergraduate minds to flourish?
Scott Saul, Professor of English

Headshot of Scott Saul (man with dark hair) next to dark blue graphic

Scott Saul, Professor of English and Chair of the 2023-24 L&S Executive Committee

For faculty invested in nurturing both their departments and undergraduate students, this is the perfect opportunity to serve and make a difference.
Scott Saul, Professor of English