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Registration causes concerns

Claire Heininger | Tuesday, November 18, 2003

While students across campus struggle to compile schedules and balance classes for spring semester, sophomore English majors looking to get a head start on their electives are discovering that they may have to wait until next year.Due to the combination of increased upperclassman demand for courses and an unusually high faculty departure rate for spring 2004, most 400-level and select 300-level English courses previously available to sophomores were closed before sophomore registration began, said English department chair Stephen Fredman.”The practice of holding separate slots for sophomores is actually a very recent development,” Fredman said. “There has been an excess of openings in the last few years, but the figures fluctuate year to year and semester to semester. … There is nothing that would allow you to anticipate [the increased interest].”Fredman also attributed the narrow availability of higher-level courses to the departure of 17 faculty members next semester. “We have lots of faculty who will be absent next semester for a variety of reasons,” he said, citing leaves of absence, fellowships, retirement and career changes as reasons for the shortage.Matthew Benedict, undergraduate advisor for the English department, agreed that the faculty circumstances for next semester are exceptional. “It’s just a strange situation with 17 people leaving,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we have what we have.”Although most 400-level classes were closed after junior and senior registration, Fredman stressed that sophomores were in no danger of missing out on requirements.He said the English department structures their courses according to a yearly plan that puts all students on track to earn a degree.”The traditions courses, methods courses and surveys that are intended for sophomores are still completely open,” he said. “[The unavailability of electives to sophomores] helps reinforce the design that’s already there … Our department is not rigid, and we don’t force the prerequisite situation, but the whole purpose of a traditions course is to tell you what’s out there – they are not intended to be roadblocks, but to be stepping stones to get you where you need to be before choosing your electives.”Fredman said sophomores in the major who narrowed their choices to specific electives too quickly were not taking full advantage of the department’s diversity. “The [elective] courses everyone thinks are most popular are the ones that everyone has heard about,” he said. “The traditions course exposes you to your own interest and leads you in the direction you care about.” He added that students who stray too far from the yearly track often make fair instruction more difficult for professors. “It’s frustrating for faculty to direct courses meant for sophomores when seniors [who took their electives before the required traditions and methods classes] jump back in,” he said. “The students get frustrated, as well, because they’re learning material that’s not on a level they’re excited about.”English professor and Keough Institute director Christopher Fox said he sympathized with students who didn’t expect to find certain classes closed so early, but added that the department was still making efforts to accommodate their needs. “I am very sorry to hear that students are having trouble,” Fox said. “But I do think this is a temporary anomaly.” Fox said that some of his colleagues discussed offering classes in future years strictly for sophomores, and that at least one 300-level class is currently available for first year students.Sophomore English majors expressed mixed reactions to registration difficulties. “It’s not so much about fulfilling the requirements, but about taking classes that I’ll actually enjoy,” Valerie Ralph said.Laura MacLean said she was not worried about fitting in the necessary courses because she plans to study abroad but believed the increased competition facing her peers was a result of the growing popularity of the major. “I think the increased attention being paid to student literacy and the intellectual side of academics has raised the desire to get into English,” MacLean said.English is not the only major at the University that has seen a recent upswing. The Department of Anthropology has quadrupled in the past five years, said professor Karen Richman. “In a way, you’re a victim of your own success,” Richman said. “If you become a popular major, your classes will become larger and the quality goes down.”Richman also said that, despite an expanding faculty, most upper-level courses in the Anthropology department were already closed after senior registration. “We’ve added 17 people [in recent years],” she said. “We keep hiring more people, but we have just a tremendous demand for classes.”While this demand does not seem likely to die down for either English or anthropology majors, Fredman said he felt confident that registration conditions did not pose a permanent problem for sophomores.”We have to react to the trends,” he said. “But our first responsibility is to save slots for the seniors who need the electives to graduate … In a way it’s better for sophomores to be directed into these first [traditions and methods] courses before wandering into electives.”