Verbum Ultimum: A Space Case
Next week, when many students view their course schedules for Winter term, they will be sorely disappointed. As they are term after term, a number of students will be turned away from classes that are simply too full, left to enroll in courses that interest them far less.
Also next week, when College President Jim Yong Kim presents his termly report in the all-faculty meeting, he will encourage the faculty to "think big." With budget cuts behind him for the time being, Kim will refocus his attention on the College's overall "academic excellence" and on facilitating faculty members' work on a larger scale, he said in a meeting with The Dartmouth Editorial Board on Thursday.
The two impending events are not unrelated. As Kim endeavors to place a greater emphasis on faculty members' work, we urge him, Provost Carol Folt and the department chairs not to let the "big ideas" overshadow the fundamentals. For example, while renovations to Dartmouth Row are long overdue a problem that Kim said he might tackle in the near future such changes will mean little if students still cannot enroll in the classes they prefer within those walls. Kim and the faculty must recognize that the frequent inability to enroll in selected classes is one of Dartmouth students' most serious academic obstacles.
Many students chose the College based in part on the expectation that, because Dartmouth is a smaller, undergraduate-focused school, they would be able to take full advantage of its offerings once they arrived on campus. Unfortunately, there are consistently courses that are over-enrolled and courses that barely have enough students to foster a dynamic learning environment. And yet the supply of courses, determined by the faculty and the Office of the Registrar, has not significantly shifted to reflect student interest. As a result, students are forced into courses that do not interest them or do not fulfill their graduation requirements.
The solution to this problem is simple: Take note of which classes are perennially over-enrolled, and either offer more sessions of those courses or hire more professors qualified to teach courses with similar themes. Unfortunately, this has yet to happen in a significant way, at least in part because departments have a captive audience even if students are turned away from their first-choice classes, they still must find other courses within the department. The current system provides little incentive to better align course offerings with student interest.
The College cannot continue to allow its students to be turned away from their academic passions or denied necessary courses for lack of space. If the administration intends to ramp up enthusiasm for successful new faculty initiatives, it must also facilitate students' enthusiasm for the classes in which they are enrolled. If students are unable to actively pursue their interests from class to class, it is unlikely that they will take full advantage of the large-scale innovations that Kim is soliciting.