As Bowdoin students register for spring semester courses, many are rushing frantically to get on  waitlists after finding themselves shut out from classes. In departments such as computer science and sociology, the problem is particularly acute: there are simply not enough professors for students to take classes they sometimes need for their majors.

“It’s lowkey like ‘The Hunger Games,’” said Beleicia Bullock ’19.

Interest in computer science as a discipline has skyrocketed over the past few years at Bowdoin according to Laura Toma, chair of the computer science department.

“The number of majors quadrupled over the last five years,” she said. “We went from 12 majors a year to now 39 majors a year. And the number of faculty has stayed more or less the same.”

Students must pass Introduction to Computer Science and Data Structures before they can move onto any higher level classes, although some students with programming backgrounds are allowed to skip Introduction to Computer Science. This semester, the department is offering two sections of each class. After the first round of class registration, one of each of the respective sections were full. 

The computer science department is also offering six upper-level computer science classes this semester. After the first round of registration, all six were completely full.

Computer Science is not the only department struggling with over-enrollment. For spring 2017, 101 students requested places in a 50-seat Introduction to Sociology class.  

Sociology and Anthropology Department Chair Nancy Riley noted that the intro class numbers are a consistent problem.

Last semester, the department offered two 50-student sections of the classes, which still was not enough to meet demand. 

“We know that, if we add a section, it will fill. It doesn’t matter how many sections we add—they will fill,” Riley said. “We want that course to be available to as many people as possible, but we only have limited staffing.”

Bullock is planning on majoring in computer science, and has been frustrated by the difficulties of getting the upper-level classes she needs. 

“This semester, I did not get into a single computer science class—they’re all full now—and so I had to go to the head to the department,” she said. “The department is super helpful. It’s not even an issue with the class, it’s an administrative issue.”

Bullock recognized the tension between catering to majors and catering to those who want to simply take one or two computer science classes.

“You definitely want people to be able to come in and explore computer science and to be able to have that liberal arts experience,” she said. “But there’s another point where you’re like ‘this professor should be teaching an upper level class.’”

Limited faculty is not the only problem facing the computer science department. They also have difficulty increasing class sizes due to lab space. 

“We are bound by the lab size,” Toma said. “So those classes cannot grow beyond 30 because the lab can only sit 32 people.”

Introduction to Sociology is a prerequisite for all upper-level sociology classes, although some classes allow students to substitute Introduction to Cultural Anthropology as the prerequisite. Unlike in the computer science department, only two of eight 2000-level sociology classes have filled. 

Department staffing is dependent upon the Office of the Dean of Academic Affairs, which announces whenever new tenure track professor positions are available.

“We talk to the Dean’s Office a lot about staffing and they’ve been really good in terms of replacing  anyone who’s going on leave,” said Riley. “But the College has only limited resources and we’re not the only department.”