As an academic advisor, one of the tasks I have to complete prior to the start of each semester is to provide “justifications” to administrators – chairs, deans, whomever in Academic Affairs – as to why classes offered in my discipline should not be canceled. These classes are “in jeopardy” due to “low enrollment,” which seems to mean whatever arbitrary number someone has determined is the correct number of students all classes should have, regardless of program or the nature of the class (also important to note, this number seems to change every semester). Since becoming an advisor several years ago, I have found this the most perplexing part of dealing with the power structure of the University. After all, isn’t the main mission of the University to educate students, and don’t we do that by providing classes every semester that are essential for their general education or education in their majors or professional programs? Why should we have to justify continuing to offer the classes that have been planned by faculty and departments to meet students’ needs? Shouldn’t it be the opposite situation, i.e. the administration justifying why they want to cut a particular course?
Over the past two academic years, as the numbers of courses cut by the administration have grown at an ever increasing rate, I no longer simply ask those questions. Instead, it seems clear to me that the result of these cut sessions is the destruction of the very essence of the University – to educate our students. After all, it’s the faculty and students who bear the brunt of the outcome of each cut session. And the worst of that outcome is reserved for students: preventing them from learning about subjects/areas that they chose to study, setting them back in their progress towards degree, and in some cases even preventing them from graduating altogether.
The cut session for the Spring 2015 semester provides plenty of evidence for that conclusion. One of the courses cut by the administration in my discipline is the methods course required for all undergraduate majors – a course that was also cut in the Fall 2014 semester, which is typically only offered in the Fall semesters but because of it being cut we decided to offer it again in the Spring semester. Let that sink in for a minute. A course required for all students in a major was cut, not once but twice in consecutive semesters. Now, for further information. There were seven students enrolled in the course in the Fall and six in the Spring. There were students who are scheduled to graduate in May 2015 enrolled in the class in both semesters. Will they graduate this May? What course can be substituted for a required methods class in the discipline in which they major? What about other students who attempt to sign up for this course in the future, only to have it cut again? The administration has either de facto removed this requirement from the major or has prevented students from graduating with this major.
Similarly, a teaching certification student was enrolled in a required Education class in the Fall 2014 semester, and it was cut. He enrolled in the same class in the Spring 2015 semester, while he is student teaching, and again that class was cut. Will he complete his teaching certification this semester, or will he have to continue to try to take this course even after he has completed all other requirements including student teaching? Who knows.
I’m guessing that my experience is not unique, and I welcome comments from others who know of similar examples of students being harmed by the results of the cut sessions. Please take time to note some of those examples in the comment section.
I have tried repeatedly to figure out a logic for the cut session and its results. As time has gone on, the only logic I can see is that it’s become part of the process of destroying the very mission of the University to educate its students. As a faculty member and an advisor, what can I tell students who search for an explanation and a strategy to deal with this situation? I can think of only one reasonable response: transfer to another University. Surely, students are already thinking about this option and many have done so in the past. So, here we have an intersection of the problem of the massive enrollment declines on the University that have been so thoroughly documented on this blog and the very heart of the academic mission of the University. Can we add these things together? I think so.