Students shorted by section closings

By Sports & Health Editor

Prior to the start of the Fall 2014 Semester, the college issued an edict requiring the cancellation of class sections that did not attain 60 percent enrollment for that semester. This directive went into effect a full six weeks before classes started, as reported Sept. 2 by The Chronicle. 

Along with several students who registered for classes well in advance of the July 16 announcement, I was notified that one of the classes I had registered for and constructed my course schedule around was canceled. Many of the sections the college yanked away from students and professors were either electives or courses offered every semester, but the one I lost was a degree requirement, an integral part of my degree program. 

For future semesters, the college plans to implement a Student Information System that will automatically wait-list students whose required courses are either canceled or at capacity, according to an April 16 statement that the provost emailed to department chairs. In the meantime, respective department chairs will be provided with lists of students who, based on their credits earned, may run the risk of not being able to register for required courses. The chairs are enabled to add additional sections if there is enough demand, or place a small number of students into a section that is at capacity—a less-than-optimal solution for positive educational outcomes.

It is not uncommon for class sections to reach maximum capacity, far beyond the 60 percent the school deemed adequate for the Fall 2014 Semester, during the add/drop window that follows the first week of classes. During this time, students shuffle their schedules and jockey for placement in desired sections. By invoking the new policy six weeks out from the start of the semester, the college effectively shut the window of opportunity that would have allowed some of these courses to achieve higher enrollment numbers and prove their “worth” to the school. The obligation to offer students courses that will form the foundation of the educations they will carry with them after leaving Columbia should have been more than enough to validate sustaining those class sections. 

As a graduating senior, I have been fortunate to have only contended with the cancellation of one such course. But fellow students within my Science Journalism concentration (Full disclosure: the Chronicle faculty advisor is the coordinator of this program)—as well as other departments and their respective concentrations within the college—are anticipating chronic disruptions and cancellations throughout their enrollment. In some cases, these students have years to go before completing their undergraduate degrees, and their prescribed course sections are evaporating from the list of class offerings one by one. This is not how a supposedly student-focused institution holds up its end of the bargain.

The cancellation of a core course does not mean it will not be offered again at a later date, but the consistent unavailability of certain courses fosters a trend that deters students from registering for them during a later semester. The course that I received a phone call about, “Science and Medicine: Covering the News,” will not be offered in the fall, and the status of the Science Journalism program is unclear. 

The college is not penalizing me nor preventing my graduating for not having this course under my belt, and my only option is to walk without the degree requirement. However, this directive carries an inadvertent message to students who find themselves in situations similar to mine: The slip of paper you receive as you cross the threshold of graduation day means more to the school than the education it is supposed to represent.

One-of-a-kind concentrations, and the variety of courses that serve as their foundations, are distinctive features that set Columbia apart from competing institutions. More than just courses required for graduation, they are the reason that students like me chose to attend this college. They are sought out not only by those who must take them in order to graduate, but also as enriching electives and exploratory options for incoming students working to determine what their creative futures will hold. 

The college should undertake any measures to tighten the belt and eliminate unnecessary expenditures in order to avoid a deficit, but a sweeping policy that results in the discontinuation of courses promised to students upon their enrollment is a breach of trust. The cancellation of such courses without regard for how individual students will be adversely affected is contradictory to Columbia’s message, and it is counterintuitive to the process of conferring degrees that represent preparedness for the future. 

As students, let’s strike up a new deal with the college: We will achieve our greatness so long as the administration considers helping us, rather than hindering us, along the way.