Student concerns given little attention by faculty

By Miles Maftean

Students in the Audio, Arts and Acoustics Department have tried to voice their concerns about the growing number of problems in the department to the administration and to the Audio, Arts and Acoustics Department through letters and meetings with little or no response.

Dan Thompson / The Chronicle

The Audio, Arts and Acoustics Department of the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building has shown little concern for the growing number of problems students face, according to more than 15 students.

A Chronicle investigation found that more than 15 students in the Audio, Arts and Acoustics Department have faced managerial problems, unsanitary learning conditions, lack of equipment, low retention rates and teaching environments not standard to Columbia.

About 40 audio, arts and acoustics students surveyed have also expressed dissatisfaction in areas similar to the 15 students. A major issue in the department is the core level courses, specifically the class Introduction to Audio, they said. The 2007 Fact Book shows the number of audio, arts and acoustics majors totaled 668 for the Fall semester of 2007.

Every audio, arts and acoustics major is required to take the Introduction to Audio class. Students said one major problem of the class is the teaching methods of Benj Kanters, the only Introduction to Audio teacher and acting chair of the Audio, Arts and Acoustics Department.

Since the spring semester of 2007, Kanters has solely taught the introduction class. In this course, Kanters said he has seen about one-third of the students fail.

According to Kanters, the Introduction to Audio class has an average of 135 students for each section, a number much larger than most Columbia classes. Kanters said that there are approximately 600 students currently in the department.

If the department offers three sections for the course per academic year, then roughly 135 students fail the class, according to Kanters.

Statistics show that if 135 of those 600 students fail the introduction class, then about 20 percent of the department’s students need to retake the introduction class to advance to the next core course.

Statistically, Columbia makes roughly $213,265 in tuition on the number of students who fail Introduction to Audio, according to Kanters’ numbers. Also, the course fee for each student is $75. The combined course fees from all failing students in one academic year would be $10,125, which is separate from tuition costs.

Bill Hillgaemyer, a freshman audio major who is currently taking Kanters’ introduction class, said Kanters teaches one way and the tests have something completely different on them.

“Basically, if you were a person who did not know anything about audio, you really would not get anything out of that class,” Hillgaemyer said.

Hillgaemyer said his struggles with the course are affecting his grades in other classes as well. He said he has spent so much time studying for his introduction class that he doesn’t spend as much time on his general education classes and it’s causing his grades to drop. Hillgaemyer said he is intimidated to take the next core level course because knows no fundamentals.

“It seems like he is just trying to push everyone away,” Hillgaemyer said.

Other students said they agree with Hillgaemyer that Kanters’ teaching methods are unconventional to Columbia.

Eric Zaruba, a sophomore audio major, said he is currently failing the class and feels trapped. He plans to retake the class in the summer, but is upset Kanters never made students aware of tutoring options.

“It is ridiculous because more than half of the people I know who have taken [the class] have just failed,” Zaruba said. “I never heard of any mention of any tutoring in the classroom, and it would have been nice to have known that.”

When asked about the students’ claims, Kanters said he said he didn’t think it was a good teaching method to use the exact language that is in the textbook or even a lecture for a quiz.

“This is the way in which we run this department and the way in which we handle the material,” Kanters said.

Students who commented on the class agreed that Kanters also never made the option of tutoring Students who commented on the class agreed Kanters also never made the option of tutoring available to them, yet Kanters said the department has tutoring sessions weekly. Of the number of students who reported on problems with Kanters, none said he mad these tutoring options aware to students.

The Introduction to Audio class is not the only issue students in the Audio, Arts and Acoustics Department have. Many upperclassmen have taken classes where either the equipment was broken or not available, and some have experienced unsanitary classroom conditions throughout the semester.

Joe Nino, a senior audio major, took Aesthetics in Sound and Installation in the spring 2007 semester as an elective class for the department and said flooding in the room made it impossible to work. He said students became sick as the class continued on, and the department did not intervene until the sixth week into the semester.

“The room got flooded and they did not relocate the class,” Nino said.

Another classmate of Nino’s in Aesthetics in Sound and Installation, Konstantin Kaganovich, a senior audio major, tried to complain to Doug Jones, the chair of the Audio, Arts and Acoustics Department, but received the run-around by Columbia officials. He said around the fourth or fifth week of the semester a puddle began to form and got bigger with each week.

Kaganovich said students complained about bad headaches when the mold became worse. Members in the department decided to blame the class, claiming the students spilled soda on the carpet, according to Kaganovich. He said the department then took all the equipment, boxed it up and moved it to storage in the Audio, Acoustics and Art Department’s basement.

“Our class just met in Panera Bread for weeks,” Kaganovich said.

Josh Casserly, a senior Audio major who was also enrolled in the same class, said he contacted Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Kelly and was told to take his complaints to the chair. When Casserly and other students tried to contact the chair of the department, Jones, he was not around the department and people had not seen him in months. Serving as acting chair, Kanters said Jones is currently on sabbatical and will eventually return to a faculty position.

“It was a situation where it was so frustrating that I was at a loss for words,” Casserly said.

According to the Center for Teaching Excellence web page, there must be an interval of six full academic years between the academic years in which sabbatical leaves are taken, regardless of whether the sabbatical takes place during the fall semester, the spring semester, or both.

Documents from the 2006 School of Media Arts Faculty Retreat show Jones gave his sabbatical presentation on August 24, 2006, and faculty generally give their sabbatical presentations a semester after they have completed the sabbatical. According to the documents and the Columbia website, the standard for sabbatical leaves has been broken by Jones. Jones took his sabbatical in 2005 and Kanters said he is currently on sabbatical in 2008. Jones has only been back from sabbatical for three years and now he is back in sabbatical status.