Registration woes irk professors

With students now choosing classes for the spring 2005 semester, professors are expressing outrage over a number of complications that delayed the start of registration last week. They are calling for the University to take a hard look at the causes behind the problem.

Originally scheduled to start Nov. 9, registration for undergraduates was pushed back to Nov. 15 after it became clear that a number of classes could not be scheduled in the time bands the academic departments had requested. Registration ends Dec. 2.

The confusion resulted in approximately 350 “homeless classes” that department chairs were asked to either place in an 8 a.m. or Friday time slot, move to academic conference rooms or cancel altogether – just days before students were to select courses.

Frustrated by the inconvenient time slots and the timing of the announcement, several professors criticized the University for poor planning, saying administrators did not do enough to prepare for the classroom space lost due to construction in some academic buildings.

“We got through the fall alright, and then this spring it justturns into a disaster,” said William Griffith, chair of the philosophy department, which was initially left with 12 homeless classes to reschedule. “I don’t think you need to look around very much to see that we’re being forced into more and more awkward time situations.”

In light of the situation, Griffith proposed a resolution at last week’s Faculty Senate meeting calling on President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to direct a “high-level review” of the classroom shortage and the scheduling mishaps it has caused.

Griffith, who has taught at GW since the mid-1960s, said he has “seldom seen the faculty so enraged.”

Some departments were more affected than others. Though numbers were not available for each department, the number of homeless classes ranged from zero to upwards of 40. Departments having the most introductory and discussion courses were particularly hard hit.

Allison Brooks, chair of the anthropology department, which had 43 unplaced courses, said she had to ask other departments to lend their space for her courses after exhausting all other options. The University, she said, needs to take the matter more seriously.

“I think someone needs to say that this needs to be a bigger priority than it has been,” Brooks said. “There’s just been a wholesale erosion of classroom space.”

As a result of renovations made to Funger Hall, time bands were revised last year to include more Friday and early morning classes. A disproportionate amount of requests for prime time slots led to a logjam for these hours while leaving less desirable spots empty.

Craig Linebaugh, associate vice president for academic planning and special projects, said that while there may be less space than in the past, the problem was a result of unwillingness by some to make use of available spaces at less favorable hours. Many faculty, he added, do not realize the difficulty of trying to make a schedule ideal for everyone.

“They absolutely underestimate the magnitude and complexity of scheduling over 4,000 courses per semester,” Linebaugh wrote in an e-mail. “Not only do they not fully understand the complexity of the task, they do not understand the degree to which departments compound the problem after the schedule has been submitted.”

Linebaugh said departments frequently submit scores of requested changes both before and after the start of registration, making matters even more complicated.

Critics countered that the University needs to do more to find additional classrooms, floating such ideas as renting off-campus office buildings or placing temporary classrooms on the old hospital site (GW already houses dozens of classes in office buildings at 1776 G St. and 2020 K St.). The current strategy, Griffith said, does not address the real problem.

“The plain fact is that (the University) has been reluctant to plan for and invest in producing classrooms,” Griffith said.

Some faculty argued that the alternatives offered for the unplaced courses were untenable. Richard Robin, chair of the German and Slavic languages department, said classes at Mount Vernon can add an extra hour to a professor’s schedule and 8 a.m. classes are difficult to make for instructors who live far away from campus. The problem is even worse for adjuncts, he said, who often make up the majority of a department’s faculty.

“A lot of classes – possibly the majority – are taught by part-timers,” said Robin, whose department, as part of the romance language department, had more than 30 unplaced courses. “Those are people who have to get the kids to school, who have other obligations, and we have to schedule classes at times when we know they’re going to be able to teach them.”

Linebaugh said the problem will likely continue at least through the fall 2006 semester, but that a variety of solutions are being explored to ease the burden.

He said, “As the GW continues to add new programs and new courses, those courses generally need a place to meet; that is, we may need even more classrooms.”

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