Verbum Ultimum: Slim Pickings

The College should expand its summer course offerings.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 4/30/21 3:00am

Sophomore summer has long been a quintessential Dartmouth experience — a College tradition treasured by generations of students that offers the chance to bond with classmates, enjoy lazy days on the Connecticut, and share the whole experience with loved ones on family weekend. Less appreciated than these traditions, it goes without saying, are the academic opportunities — or lack thereof —  offered over the summer. This should come as no surprise — one of the worst-kept secrets about sophomore summer is the term's shockingly limited class selection.

According to the recently released timetable, 84% of departments and programs are offering 10 classes or fewer this summer — and that includes individualized study courses that very few students take. Shockingly, 40% are offering three classes or fewer. Compare this to last fall term, when just 52% of departments offered 10 classes or fewer and a mere 16% offered three or fewer. While some might justify these minimal offerings by arguing that these departments are less popular amongst students, even the two most popular majors at Dartmouth offer slim pickings when it comes to course selection: The economics department is offering only four unique classes this summer, while the government department is offering a slightly better but still meager eight.  In contrast, this past fall the economics department offered 21 courses and the government department offered 29. 

Introductory course offerings will also be slim this summer. Of the three most popular departments, neither the computer science department nor the economics department is offering any introductory courses, and the government department is offering only one. The need to cater the summer timetable to sophomores is not an excuse for these severely limited introductory course offerings — during their sophomore year, many people are still testing out departments and fulfilling introductory requirements, and offering a predominance of less popular, niche courses doesn’t reflect that reality.

Dartmouth students are required, at least in non-pandemic years, to take classes during sophomore summer and must pay the same tuition as any other term. Additionally, the College markets sophomore summer as an ordinary academic term — the College’s website compares the term to “any other academic term” and states that sophomore summer “first and foremost... means summer study.” Given these factors, the lack of sufficient course offerings put out each summer is inexcusable. Because of the limited offerings, students are often forced to take courses they aren’t interested in to fulfill major and minor or other graduation requirements, or to take random classes that don’t count toward their graduation requirements at all. If sophomore summer were not required, it is safe to say that the sparse course offerings would prompt at least some students to instead take the term off in favor of taking classes they actually want and need during another term.

Traditionally, classes offered during the summer, although limited, have been catered to the group taking classes — sophomores. This year, however, those members of the Class of 2022 who chose to take 20X off due to the pandemic will be joining the Class of 2023. Thus, in addition to the general lack of courses being offered this summer, the overall demand for classes is bound to be higher than normal summers.

In addition to this summer’s sparse offerings, a lack of in-person offerings — despite incredible progress on vaccines — limits access to a quality education. As it stands, it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of Dartmouth students, professors, and members of the broader community will have received at least one dose of the vaccine by the start of the summer — yet only 22 of the 416 classes being offered this summer are slated to be on campus and 38 classes are set to be “remote with on-campus components.” If the College intends for this summer to be a trial run for the fall, why not increase the share of in-person classes and try to work any kinks out early? After all, with most of the Dartmouth student body set to return in the fall, there will undoubtedly be an even steeper (re)learning curve come September. Increasing the number of in-person courses offered should be a priority — the remote format, while instrumental during the pandemic, decreases overall quality of education and, in general, is disfavored by professors due to lower levels of student engagement in the online setting.  

In preparation for the summer, the College should expand its course offerings, ensure that they cater to the student body who will be taking classes — including juniors — and work to make more classes available in person. And of course — as should go without saying — all of these changes should be promptly and effectively communicated to the student body.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.