Classes slashed across campus

By LauraNalin

What appears to be one of the most severe course cancellations in the college’s history took place last week, just days before students were set to return for the spring semester. The last-minute cancellations have left both students and faculty scrambling to make tough adjustments to their schedules. With most classes at their capacity, many students have been left in a lurch, hoping to find an open course that will suit their needs.

Columbia’s administration seemed reluctant to release information as repeated phone requests by The Chronicle for exact numbers were not returned.

Some courses that aided students in their concentration, such as the College Newspaper Workshop taught by Jeff Lyon, have been removed from the curriculum due to low enrollment numbers.  Although it is still unclear how many classes were removed college-wide, 15 classes in the Journalism Department alone have been cancelled this semester.

Len Strazewski, associate professor and acting chair of the Journalism Department for the spring 2010 semester, said that although he wasn’t directly involved with the cancellations in the past, this semester has been quite different compared to previous terms.

One of the differences Strazewski mentioned was the decision-making process involved. He said his understanding of the situation is that the cancellations are more severe in terms of class size.

“In previous semesters, if we had a class of five or six students we could make a case of, ‘Well, you know, it’s a small class, but we really want to teach it,’” Strazewski said. “This semester, we were told frankly that classes [with] under nine [students] probably shouldn’t run unless there was a compelling reason, like if it was a required class or if it is absolutely needed in order for students to graduate. It’s a subtle difference, but important.”

Stazewski added that he had recently made pitches to keep certain classes in the Journalism Department available, however, only a few were permitted. In addition to the College Newspaper Workshop, other classes removed from the program include a section of Media Ethics and Law and a section of Intro to Journalism.  Classes with low numbers that stayed were a Magazine Article Writing course, a necessary class for magazine writing majors, and two new class initiatives that are thought to improve the overall diversity of the college, The World of Ethnic Media and Reporting for the Spanish Language News Media.

Alton Miller, associate dean of the School of Media Arts, said the cancellations are not a matter of low enrollment, but rather a matter of how many classes are scheduled along with how ambitious the department felt when they scheduled classes.

Doreen Bartoni, dean of the School of Media Arts,  questioned whether the magnitude of course cancellations were any different than those in the past.

“I’m not sure why this would be considered newsworthy,” Bartoni said.

“We always go through a review of classes and we’re always looking for the appropriate enrollment in each class to ensure its vitality and effectiveness,” said Bartoni. She added that although she was not directly involved in the cancellations, the school always goes through a class cancellation period. “It’s not a question of how many were cancelled but a question of what is the appropriate mix.”

While the cancellation of classes undoubtedly affects the students, it certainly also affects the faculty members on several levels, according to Strazewski.

“The most important thing for full-time faculty is they need to fill out their schedule,” Strazewski said. “If they can’t get enough students and have to teach another class, they are assigned a core class which is what’s usually available. Then they have to re-prepare which then makes them bump adjunct faculty.”

A letter sent to adjunct faculty by Strazewski states: “Due to lower than expected enrollment in Journalism and across the college, many classes have been cancelled. As a result, if your class was one of those, we are probably unable to offer you a new class to replace your assignment at this time. In addition, some adjuncts scheduled to teach a robustly-enrolled section may be bumped by full-time faculty who have had one of their assigned classes cancelled.”

The letter also states that adjunct faculty members are entitled to compensation under the Part-Time Faculty Association contract, and will receive their payment by

March 15, 2010.

Students were not left in the dark, however. According to Miller, as soon as a course was cancelled, an automated e-mail was released to inform the students that their course was removed from the curriculum. However, some students do not check their Oasis account, so for that reason, the deans asked all the departments to call the students directly to inform them that they were among those whose classes had been cancelled.

Miller said the college is doing all it can to ensure that students are properly taken care of if their class has been cancelled, especially if the students are seniors.

“The departments have instructions to help them find other sections that are the same class or give them other alternatives for the semester,” Miller said. “If it’s absolutely necessary, like a small class that is full of seniors, all considerations come into play. We’re not just throwing the students out there and saying ‘that’s too bad.’ It’s a real concern for our faculty and department staff as well.”