Crowded classes breeds scheduling difficulties

Helen Stetter’s e-mail inbox has been flooded with more than 300 messages relaying complaints from professors who are frustrated with the size, layout or location of their classrooms this semester.

Stetter, a GW scheduling officer who retired Friday, has been wading through the requests all semester. The process became more problematic for the spring semester because Stetter’s scheduling partner left the department, leaving her to fit a rising number of undergraduates into a limited area.

As the backlog continues, students and professors make do with cramped seating or no seating at all.

“It has gotten tougher to add courses or to make adjustments as we approach a semester,” political science Chair Jeffrey Henig said. “We’ve already shifted some of our faculty from graduate to undergraduate teaching to keep rising undergraduate enrollment from becoming a problem. But we’re a popular department, and there are a lot of students that want to take our classes. If we had the space, we could add more.”

In the romance languages department, Executive Aide Sheldon Glazer said he turns most students away when they ask to be added to a class.

Glazer, who has been in the department for four years, said it has seen a “major increase” in students enrolled in language classes every year.

“It isn’t fair to the students or the teachers when a class size is too big or the classroom is not the right setup for learning a language,” Glazer said.

Murray Loew, electrical engineering and computer science department chair, said his 13-student digital image processing class was assigned to a room designed for six. Until Stetter or her replacements can accommodate Loew’s request, his students continue to learn in vacant department space, he said.

Loew said graduate classes have the most conflicts because part-time students have less flexibility with their schedules and are limited to night classes.

But Stetter said more classrooms would not have made her job easier. She calls the task of finding classroom space a “merry-go-round,” because she often has to rearrange up to five classes to make everyone happy.

“No amount of rooms is ever enough,” she said. “If you add rooms, you add classes. If you add classes, you add faculty. Faculty need office space, too.”

Some students said the classroom layout or location is not as much of a problem as the number of students in their classes.

“A couple of my classes are too big,” senior Egerton Lewis said. “All they have to do is add a few more sections.”

Lewis said he’s already traded classrooms in one class this semester because of the space crunch.

And some students said increased class size sometimes improves courses, if the room is big enough.

Melissa Jaw, a first-year graduate physician’s assistant, said the increased class sizes have allowed medical students to enroll in her classes and add welcomed participation.

“While the medical students add numbers to the class, their input as practicing students is great,” Jaw said.

Stetter said the need to make each classroom handicapped accessible by enlarging the rooms also adds to the space shortage. She said in some cases the presence of a wheelchair or interpreter often makes a classroom that accommodates students on paper too small in reality.

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