Elliott School students flood CCAS courses

Students majoring in subjects like anthropology and geography have been shut out of some upper level classes as they face fiercer registration competition from international affairs students looking to fill requirements.

Nearly three-quarters of students in upper-level anthropology courses like development anthropology come from the Elliott School of International Affairs, a surge that’s forced the department to increase section offerings, expand class sizes and rely on adjuncts over the past decade.

Anthropology department chair Brian Richmond said one of the program’s “biggest struggles” is meeting the demand for upper-level, discussion-based courses that also fill requirements for students in the Elliott School.

The department would have more breathing room if it added another full-time professor to teach those courses, Richmond said, but his request to hire one was denied last year. It employs about 20 full-time professors right now.

“We’ve gone through hoops to make sure students aren’t slowed down from graduating,” Richmond said. “There are times when some upper level courses are larger than we’d like, and we think the students aren’t getting as rich of an experience in terms of discussion in an upper level course as they could.”

Elliott School students choose five courses from a range of anthropology, geography, political science and economics classes to fulfill their concentrations in topics like conflict and security or international development.

Geography department chair Elizabeth Chacko said the influx of Elliott School students has the department “grappling with the issue of how to manage enrollment in an equitable and fair manner.”

Both departments have started to set aside seats for their own majors in highly sought after classes.

While departments and colleges across the University pine for new full-time professors each year by appealing to the dean’s and provost’s offices for funding, the enrollment logjam comes as GW strategizes future hiring priorities.

The strategic plan, set for final release in February, outlines tentative proposals to hire 50 to 100 new professors over the next decade. Provost Steven Lerman has outlined a goal to reduce the University’s 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, which is higher than several peer schools like New York University.

Hugh Agnew, the Elliott School’s associate dean for faculty affairs, said the college has tried to pump up fundraising efforts and work with the provost’s office to identify funding for new faculty slots. The school will add two new professor positions next year in the areas of international development policy and women, security and development.

“Most of these new faculty members have joint appointments in the Elliott School and a CCAS department; this is an important way in which the Elliott School and CCAS departments work together. It’s a win-win proposition,” he said in an email.

While a surge in Elliott School enrollment in 2009 took administrators by surprise, Agnew said, the number of students has since tapered off to levels seen before that year.

Stephen Lubkemann, an associate professor of anthropology who spearheaded a review of the department’s cultural curriculum, said as those courses skyrocketed in popularity, the department turned to adjuncts who were hired only to fill the class demand, not because of a particular expertise.

“We wanted to go back and look at that because our experience with adjuncts has been uneven,” he said. “The bigger challenge is when you have two or three additional sections scrambling around to find people to teach.”

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