Faculty caps 100-, 200- level courses for 2003-2004
After years of adjusting course enrollments on an individual basis, the faculty has voted to standardize the enrollment of 100- and 200-level courses. Beginning with the 2003 Fall semester, the maximum number of students allowed in a 100-level class will be reduced from 75 to 50. The maximum number of students allowed to enroll in a 200-level class will change from 50 to 35.
This decision "comes after years of discussion about the large size of courses at Bowdoin," said Chair of the Curriculum Educational Policy Committee (CEP) Craig McEwen. "Large classes limit the kinds of pedagogical approaches that a professor is able to take and limit student engagement and sense of involvement, which can be frustrating to both professors and students."
Although the College sets universal limits for course enrollment, many professors have obtained permission to change these limits. "The majority of 100-level courses have limits that are less than the official limit of 75," McEwen said. "Also, a significant number of 200-level courses enroll less than 50 students. Since we had already made variations on a case by case basis, we thought that it was time to change the college-wide standards."
Students give the proposed changes mixed reviews, often citing concerns about access to introductory courses.
Maggie Fitzgerald '06 said that she felt the reductions to entry-level classes are "counterproductive, because a lot of them are taught in a lecture format anyway and the number of people sitting in the lecture doesn't make a big difference." She continued, "[The limits] might prevent students from getting into the classes when they want or need to."
Other students are encouraged by the movement to reduce numbers in classes. Sam Downing '05 remarked that he was "shocked at how big some of my freshmen classes here were. One of the big reasons that people choose to go to liberal arts colleges is that the classes are small. People get to know their professors and participate in class discussions, all of which is essential for an active learning community. In terms of smaller class sizes, I think that any step in that direction is an important one."
In order to respond to students' concerns about the difficulty of getting into courses, the CEP compared the number of students' first choice courses that would be rejected if the limits in class size were reduced. "We found that the number went from roughly 200 to 300 up to between 500 and 600," McEwen stated. "We didn't think that was too high a price to pay for the smaller courses that would result, and don't expect any massive disruptions from the change."
"Different departments think differently about this change," McEwen continued. "If there is a lot of pressure in terms of the number of students looking to take classes [in that department], it might chose not to enforce the course limits or to offer the course more often." Faculty members are permitted to ask permission for enrollment limit exceptions from the CEP.
Departments must decide how to account for the reductions in class sizes, and whether they want to offer multiple sections of one class while adhering to the new caps. This opens the debate of balancing upper-level and intro-level courses. "It's a real tradeoff for the department," Chair of the Recording Committee and Psychology Professor Suzanne Lovett commented. "The question is if we want to make [Psychology] 101 available to more students at the cost of offering fewer courses above that level, which means less variety within the department."
In response to the changes in class caps, the faculty passed a proposal from the Recording Committee addressing student access to courses during both Phase I and Phase II registration periods.
Lovett remarked, "We had heard from some students that it was difficult to add during Drop/Add period, and given the new policy we weren't sure to what extent students would need to add more." She added that the policy is intended to provide a "written policy statement about the faculty's expectations for ourselves during the first week of the Drop/Add period."
The Recording Committee Motion to Clarify Course Entry During the Drop/Add Period aims to increase student access to courses during that period. Under this policy, an instructor may only drop a student from a class if the student does not attend the first meeting and the demand for the class is higher than the number allowed to enroll.
The motion also specifies that an instructor should allow a student to add his or her course if "the student has the necessary qualifications, the approved maximum class size limit has not been reached, and the student and faculty member have agreed on how missed class material and assignments will be managed."
The Drop/Add proposal passed on April 7 during a faculty meeting with only one vote against it, and the proposal to limit class sizes passed in a faculty meeting on March 3 by a majority of votes.