Class cancellations less severe than perceived

By CiaraShook

Though departments across campus experienced more class cancellations for the spring 2010 semester than in fall 2009, the cuts weren’t as severe and abnormal as students and faculty may have thought.

The Columbia community suspects the class cuts could be part of the college experiencing a drop in enrollment between fall 2009 and spring 2010 semesters. The Chronicle contacted all 22 departments on Columbia’s campus. Of the 11 that responded, chairs reported several possible explanations for low enrollment in their department.

“There has always been lower enrollment in the spring than in the fall,” said John Green, chair of the Theater Department.

However, the Theater Department this semester experienced more class cancelations than an average spring, where it would expect to lose two or three sections of a class, Green said. The Theater Department cancelled 12 classes, all of which had other sections available to affected students.

As was the case with most of the other departments surveyed rarely were entire courses wiped from the Oasis map.

Bonnie Brooks, chair of the Dance Department, said her department keeps a close eye on class enrollment during the fall semester to see how the sections are filling for spring and what students are taking.

“By the end of the semester, with the exception of incoming students, we have a pretty good idea [of what sections will not be cancelled],” Brooks said. “We make some effort to see if we can get additional enrollment in some lower enrolled classes.”

The Dance Department saw approximately five class cancellations out of the 100-plus sections offered this spring, most of which were technique-related, Brooks said.

“Cancellation is one of the hardest and most frustrating things the [Theater] Department is faced with, so we are extremely careful about making sure if we have to cancel a class, the student has another class to go into,” Green said. “Our policy was to keep the classes open as long as possible to see if numbers would rise.”

Most departments made efforts to fit students into other sections, if their class was in danger of being cancelled, by prompt e-mails and phone calls.

Angelo Luciano, associate Arts, Entertainment and Media Management professor, said the AEMM Department took a proactive approach when students registered before the semester break, combining classes with low enrollment by suggesting students switch classes, most of which were introductory classes, which resulted in less than three class cancellations.

In a previous interview with The Chronicle, Associate Professor and acting Chair of the Journalism Department Len Strazewski reported the department had cancelled 15 courses, but insisted that the department kept the courses necessary to students’ curriculum.

Bruce Sheridan, chair of the Film and Video Department, said his department cancelled sections where the demand was insufficient for the faculty to provide the necessary educational services, but situations of the like happen every semester as part of the department’s responsibility to best use available resources across the curriculum.

“If enough students enroll for a given section, we move heaven and Earth to be able to deliver that section,” Sheridan said.

Though the Film and Video Department saw a slightly higher number of class cancellations than normal, Sheridan said there was no quantum change.

Randy Albers, chair of the Fiction Writing Department, said his department was especially energetic about helping students who were approaching graduation to help them satisfy required courses. Albers said that of the 88 sections offered by the Fiction Writing Department, 11 were cancelled, with eight sections and three stand-alone courses, which are classes in which only one section is offered in the semester.

Albers said the department cancellations were less this spring than last, but the department saw an odd registration rate because it appeared some students didn’t register until the last minute.

“We were very worried about [enrollment] two weeks before the semester began,” Albers said. “Less worried a week before the semester began, and then had a rush in the last week, some of it occurring after we’d cancelled classes. It was difficult to plan, in some ways more difficult than in other semesters.”

Jay Wolke, chair of the Art and Design Department, said though two sections and two upper level courses were cancelled, his department is up in student enrollment compared to last spring as 10 more sections are being offered.

“There were classes cancelled but [also] classes added,” Wolke said. “It’s a matter of preference on the students’ part. We don’t like to stuff classes.”

Wolke and Pantelis Vassilakis, chair of the Audio Arts and Acoustics Department, have been working to reduce class caps in certain courses that demand more one-on-one attention from the faculty, but Vassilakis said the decreased caps is what has caused the cancellations this semester.

The Audio Arts and Acoustics Department had roughly three classes cancelled this spring, including a section of Audio Production II and the course CSI: Practices for Graphical Documentation, which Vassilakis said would only be offered once a year in the future.

The English Department cancelled 11 classes this semester, all of which were multi-section courses except for the Literary Magazine Production class, compared to four that were cancelled last spring.

Kenneth Daley, chair of the English Department, said planning for multi-section courses can sometimes be difficult.

“It’s true that last spring we had four classes that were cancelled, as opposed to 11 [this year],” Daley said. “The year before that, in ’08, we had 14. It’s so far from an exact science.”

Annette Barbier, chair of the Interactive Arts and Media Department, had 14 class cancellations in her department, but said regardless of the present circumstances the classes would not have run.

“It’s a bigger problem than just this semester, I know the college is working on that,” Barbier said.