Calling undergraduate education "the heart and soul of university life," University of Utah President Chase N. Peterson is leading a campuswide push to improve its quality.

"Great universities are built upon a firm foundation of quality undergraduate education. I cannot think of a distinguished university without that base," he said in remarks prepared for presentation to the faculty Tuesday afternoon."Such a base is not, however, merely instrumental to larger purposes of graduate education and research. The undergraduate experience is the core of any university and as such has fundamental, intrinsic merit."

Invited to the president's convocation on undergraduate education were the university's deans, department chairmen and selected faculty, staff and student representatives.

Peterson announced that a faculty-staff task force is addressing, in a comprehensive way, the issues surrounding undergraduate education.

The task force and U. Provost James L. Clayton have appointed six working groups of faculty, staff, students and administrators to focus on an aspect of the undergraduate experience. They are: teaching, research and service; leadership and organization; students and student life; internal community relations; external community relations; and opportunities and rewards.

Their findings will be used as the basis of future faculty meetings and recommendations for improvements, he said.

The U. president also pointed out that the Undergraduate Cabinet has been working on critical undergraduate education issues for four years and the work of the new groups isn't meant to duplicate nor replace the cabinet's efforts.

While outlining the basic importance of undergraduate education, Peterson reported the need for improvements, pointing out that local and national critics see universities as tipping their emphasis and resources to graduate education and research.

The U. will continue as a leading research institution, but it is also committed to its teaching role and is looking for ways to improve it, he said.

Peterson said the U.'s undergraduate curriculum, however, appears in better shape than its peers nationally.

Major challenges to raising the quality of undergraduate education are inadequate faculty salaries; funding difficulties; inadequate support for key academic areas such as the library; and weakened morale among faculty and staff.

Peterson said challenges must not paralyze the university and cause it to ignore improvements in undergraduate education. If that happens, the condition will also deteriorate further.

Undergraduate education is critical to community support, and to neglect it would place the university's community base of support at risk, Peterson said.

*****

(Chart)

Deficiencies in program

-Unavailability of key courses.

-Limitations on high-demand majors, caused by budget restraints, that force qualified students to be turned away.

-Increasing reliance on teaching assistants at the freshman and sophomore levels.

-Limitations on recruiting top academic performers.

-Insufficient opportunities for students to interact with faculty outside the classroom.