Registration Troubles Abound

Students returned to campus this week rested and prepared for the new year and the semester ahead with fresh academic, social and extracurricular challenges awaiting them. Before rigorous coursework begins, many students must engage in battles to simply register for classes. Students attempting to enroll in classes are turned away due to excess demand for courses and “caps” on class numbers that are established by the administration. The student interest in classes seems to exceed the supply of many specific courses and professors in several departments, leaving students unable to register for the classes that they desire — or are required — to take. Well before the end of the last semester, students met with their academic advisers to make tentative plans for their course schedule. They then participated in online registration, which allows groups of students to enter the website at a specific time, determined by lottery, in order to select their courses. Many students came away from this process on multiple waitlists, feeling disgruntled because the classes that they wanted to take were full. Students attempted to secure places in classes through the chaotic procedure of “drop-add,” which entailed waiting in long lines and generally unsuccessful cajolery with department chairs. Because students are generally not able to change their schedules at this event, the remaining hope of registering for many courses lies in the jurisdiction of individual professors. While professors manage their own class lists, they are confined by boundaries on class sizes imposed by the administration. Thus they cannot allow all students desiring a place in the class to register. Students expressed frustration and confusion with Colgate’s registration process. “While I intend to major in political science,” sophomore Julia Fleckman said, “registering for even one course in the department was almost impossible this semester.” Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs and Associate Dean of the Faculty Jill Tiefenthaler cited a specific reason for students’ difficulty in registering for desired classes. “Most of the registration problems are the result of increasing demand rather than decreasing supply [of class sections],” they said. Demand for courses, determined by student interests and concentration choices, is variant and therefore a challenge to which it is difficult for the administration and academic departments to appropriately respond to. The Department of Political Science, for example, has faced a dramatic increase in student enrollment in the past several years, making it Colgate’s largest department. It is also the one department facing the most problems with over-enrollment. Chair of the Department, Political Science Professor Joe Wagner, attributes the increase in the Department’s popularity to recent elections, terrorism, the events September 11 and the high quality of the faculty. He stated that between the years of 2001 and 2004, the number of students serviced by the Political Science Department grew from 1500 to 2100. “There is no way for an increase in professors to match” this dramatic rate of growth,” Wagner said. The obvious solution to the problem seems to be to simply hire more faculty in order to offer more sections of popular courses. Hiring instructors for short-term placements to meet demand trends is very difficult, however, because this requires extensive national searches. Additionally, the quality of lecturers hired for one term is typically much lower than those who are hired with the objective of obtaining a permanent position in the faculty. Hiring long-term faculty is also a problem. “The trend of high enrollment in Political Science may shift in five years,” Wagner said. “The department cannot hire many tenure-track professors because it may soon be left with an surplus of staff and under-enrolled classes.” He believes that the enrollment problem is worsened, since the faculty is comprised of excellent scholars. “They have grants, fellowships, they are on leave and we can’t stop their commitment to research,” Wagner said. “These things make them a faculty of excellence.” The inefficiencies and problems that lie in hiring both short-term and tenure-track faculty create a situation with no immediate solution. While the number of faculty members hired may not change, many professors are contentious about the class-size “caps” that the administration imposes. Professor of Political Science Doug Macdonald offered a reason behind the class-size regulations. “[Professors] don’t like it any more than [students] do,” he said, “but the situation exists because those with the gold make the rules.” Macdonald suggested that the firm limit on the number of students in each class stems from the administration’s desire to ascend academic rankings, such as those found in U.S. News and World Report, in which class size is factored into an institution’s comparative position. Another view recognizes the University’s commitment to excellence in student writing and a higher incidence of student contact with faculty. Roelofs and Tiefenthaler said that the Colgate administration is “committed to keeping as many of our classes to their original caps as possible. This past semester, over 60 percent of classes had fewer than 20 students enrolled.” Wagner explained various short-term solutions that departments are using to deal with the problem. Specifically, the Political Science Departments has hired three or four short-term appointments per year with a focus on quality. In addition, visiting professors are also hired. The department is also forced to “overload” current faculty, or assign them to teach six courses per year, as opposed to the standard five. The administration has realized the problem of unsatisfied students and overloaded faculty, but no clear solution exists because of the high risks and costs of hiring faculty for both short and long term appointments. Roelofs and Tiefenthaler suggested that students hoping to get off waitlists and enrolled into desired courses go and see the professors. “In many of the departments with long waitlists, the chairs have asked faculty members to take a few extra students in each of their section,” they said.The academic geography of a small college dedicated to small class sizes and high-quality instruction across many disciplines inevitably leaves some students dissatisfied and faculty overburdened. Students have the best chance of obtaining enrollment in desired classes by strategically placing themselves on waitlists and requesting places in classes from specific instructors.