Finances force University to drop classes

Julie Balzarini

The College of Arts and Sciences dropped a number of course sections from the spring 2009 schedule last week right before registration began.

“There have been, across the University, some efforts to trim course offerings back to the levels of a year ago, or if possible, slightly reduce them,” said Dr. John Johannes, vice president for Academic Affairs. “That is just an internal budgetary issue. It has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on in the national economy. As best I can tell, there will be, across the entire College of Arts and Sciences, about 20 fewer [courses] than were offered a year ago.”

Five of these dropped courses were from the communication department initial planned offering for the spring. All declared communication majors received an e-mail informing them of this change on Oct. 28.

“Keep in mind that this is a college-wide situation, not a departmental situation,” said Dr. Bryan Crable, chairperson of the communication department. “It’s not that our offerings aren’t at normal levels. We were asked to reduce to spring 2008 levels. Because of the popularity of our major, we are up a considerable number of majors since last year, so cutting classes back to previous levels seems like a reduction.”

Johannes said that the University has been reviewing the way it allocates budgets throughout the colleges, especially concerning the hiring of temporary faculty.

Johannes explained that some of the departments in the college hoped to offer additional courses this spring, but that the budgetary resources needed to cover them are not available at this time.

Crable reiterated that his department was trying to do something positive for its students and meet the increasing demands of the major.

“The financial situation right now just makes it impossible,” Crable said.

When asked why the money is not available, Johannes expressed the complexity of the issue and referred generally to a number of factors, including faculty teaching loads, the number of people on sabbaticals and the effort to increase the number of faculty members hired on a full-time basis, rather than increased the number of part-time faculty members.

“There are [many] of these different factors floating around,” Johannes said. “It’s not a freeze. It is not a cutback. It is none of those things. It is simply trying to maintain our budgets as they were originally projected to be and as they should be.”

While Johannes said he had not witnessed any concern from students, Crable said he received some negative reactions.

“I’ve had some panicky e-mails from students who are concerned because they need to meet requirements for their specialization [within the communication major],” Crable said. “For seniors, we’ve been able to find comparable courses at the 3000 level and make exceptions to allow them to complete their specialization requirements. We can suggest alternatives to juniors, and they can get their other requirements later on, maybe next year.”

Johannes expressed some concern from the University’s faculty.

“I think a lot of this is perception,” Johannes said. “I heard some faculty saying there is a freeze on hiring. For internal budgetary reasons, [Rev. Kail] Ellis has suspended current faculty recruitments, with the possibility of making exceptions where needed. There’s no freeze across the University. However, there is a careful review on hiring because we don’t know what the external economic situation may be. We want to make sure we do not do anything foolish in the short run that may cause problems in the long run.”

Crable also referred to some faculty concerns.

“Obviously, the faculty are also very concerned about this, in part because they had already been advising students based on the previously announced schedule,” Crable said. “We are all very concerned because the cuts meant there were some part-time instructors who were let go or whose course loads were reduced. Clearly this is not something any of us wanted to do or see happen.”

Johannes also discussed the possibility of raising the class sizes of ACS courses from 15 or 16 students to 17.

“We try to keep them at 15 students,” Johannes said. “In the past we’ve sometimes had 16, and some, rarely, have actually been at 17. This year, I think they will be at 16 for this coming spring and fall of next year.”

Johannes explained that the school does not intend to significantly increase class sizes in language or writing intensive courses.

“The numbers do bounce around depending on a number of factors no one can control,” Johannes said. “Overall, the average class size of the University has not changed in 10 years.”

Johannes said that there are now more classes with under 20 students, but there are also more classes with 30 or more students than previous.

Both Crable and Johannes said that the situation is stable.

“My understanding as of now is that our schedule is staying as it is,” Crable said.

“Nobody is panicked or proposing dramatic actions,” Johannes said. “We are trying to bring our budget back into alignment. Things are well under control, and it looks good.”