The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Senate Meeting, 4 November 2009

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 5 November 2009

Agenda available here [PDF].

1. Consent Agenda. The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) got $864.95 for a benefit concert – $700 for audio/visual equipment, and $164.95 for “police security.”

More importantly for the author, the consent agenda also included a petition from a Young Americans for Liberty chapter. Unfortunately, they missed the meeting, and had their hearing for start-up funds tabled until they show up. It’s great to see that there’s a nascent YAL group on campus, but it be even better to see an active one.

2. Undergraduate Council. A year and a month ago, Professor George Gehrels came to the ASUA Senate to discuss course availability, GROs, class standing, and general education. Today, Gehrels came to discuss … course availability, GROs, class standing, and general education. Send in the snakes!

Anyways, Gehrels cited a few changes in his presentation [PDF] that have been implemented since then: the new class standing policy, the $25 drop fee after seven days, and extending WebReg through the eighth day of the semester.

Impact is “uncertain” for all these policies except for the class standing policy, which has boosted average semester enrollment for full-time students from 13.1 to 13.4 units – a fairly significant boost. It’s unfortunate, though, that Gehrels continues to sell the measure as a revenue-increasing one. Perhaps more units are being taken per semester, but, assuming that this policy does what it is supposed to, these students will stay in school for a shorter average duration. If the school really wanted to boost state funds, it could increase the total number of credit

Yet while this class standing policy encourages students to take 15 units per semester (rather than 12), another policy being implemented this spring will cap pre-registration enrollment at 16 units (Honors students get 19). Both policies are admirable by themselves, but together they serve to put students in a vise. Students taking a language class (i.e. 4 units) will be trapped into their schedule – anything outside of the most basic class shifts will become perilous.

Course shopping often gets demonized, but it ignores how useful it is as a hedge against uncertainty. The Senate rightly emphasized that this would become less and less of a problem as syllabi and book lists are made available online, but that’s hardly the only reason for a drop. Perhaps the professor rubs you the wrong way, or the 10-10:50 is too far away from your 11-12:15, or the class you really wanted just opened up.

Further, as Sen. D. Wallace pointed out, some kids are perfectly capable of taking more than 16 units. 18 units in particular is a fairly common enrollment trend. In fact, this new policy works against graduating kids in three – so basically, kids will graduate in four if nothing interrupts their “plan”; otherwise, they’ll be on the same five-year track that is the norm.

The UGC acts as a sort of de facto on-campus think tank, so it’d be nice for them to look at historical enrollment trends and drop rates across the university. With the right data, it seems that registration capacity could be inflated beyond enrollment capacity, allowing students a bit of flexibility as they perfect their schedule.

The other possibility, if the 16 unit restriction isn’t going away, would be to permit the buying/selling/trading of class seats. Of course, this effectively gives Honors students a 3-unit trading subsidy.

Gehrels “couldn’t believe” that he was discussing GROs again before the Senate, a surprising statement for a 24 veteran at the UA. The Senate deserves credit for pointing out – and this is the only time, I suspect – that there needs to be more “awareness” of the fact that GROs change nothing when it comes to graduate/professional school. Sen. Weingartner proposed putting an informational box on the GRO form, perhaps cutting down on unnecessary retakes.

Some other random, but very bad, ideas:

-A “general studies degree,” reflecting on the “interdisciplinary world we live in.” (/vomit) It wasn’t at all made clear how this would differ from the Interdisciplinary Majors that are currently offered. Sen. Weingartner offered the best hypothesis, contrasting the effective combining of three minors (ID) with course-by-course selection (GS). Yet Gehrels couldn’t say, saying that it was still in the works. Why this is deemed so necessary remains a mystery.

-Gehrels wondered openly whether the GenEd program should “do away with the writing requirement, and not have a writing component in the GenEd program at all.” One must wonder, if this holds, why we have general education in the first place.

-“Success Courses,” such as ‘how to find a major’ and ‘find a grad school for you’, presumably to be offered for credit.

Random notes:

-President Nagata will start discussions with President Talenfeld next week about the Get REAL initiative. Baseless speculation sez, “Get excited?”

-Without irony, we had back-to-back reports urging us to (a) vote for the homecoming royalty online, and (b) to go to a “mixer” with student regent finalists Friday after next, and then fill out a “survey” to indicate one’s preferences. Which is to say: UA students have a greater say over their homecoming court than they do over their representative on the Board of Regents. Can’t you feel the empowerment?

Registration reform and its unintended consequences

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 23 February 2009

The proposed plans to free up class space at the very least have some merit to them. The details of the plan, with some extra snarky scare quotes to spice it up, from the Wildcat:

Under the proposed policy, undergraduates wishing to attain the next higher classification will need to have completed a minimum of 30 units for sophomore standing, 60 units for junior standing, and 90 units for senior standing.

In the old class standing policy, students needed to have the same numbers of unit “in progress”. The catch with the new policy is that the units need to be “earned” by registration time.

According to the proposal to change class standing and classification submitted last April by Jerry Hogle, interim vice president for instruction, “there is evidence that full-time students are more academically successful when they take 15-18 units per semester than when they take 12-14 units.”

The new policy is focused around this “evidence,” as well as the idea that higher class standing cutoffs will encourage students to enroll in at least 15 units each semester.

As far I can tell, though, this doesn’t really change the system – even if this encourages enrollment in 15 units, a freshman who enters such a system will still have freshman status when they try to enroll in March for their second-year classes, since they will only have 15 units completed – earned, if you will. This student won’t be allowed to register as a sophomore until he or she enrolls for the classes in the second semester of their second year. Meanwhile, a student who sticks to a 12-unit regimen his or her first semester – which, I will point out, was repeatedly encouraged by orientation leaders as the appropriate course load for students to help them “ease into” the college atmosphere and work ethic – will not be able to register with a sophomore standing until they are enrolling for classes for the first semester of their third year; which, under most circumstances, is considered one’s “junior” year.

This seems to deny a long-standing reality that when you register for classes, you aren’t registering as you currently stand – you are registering as you will stand by the time those classes are actually taken. Thus, students taking a prerequisite course (say, Basic Microeconomics) are allowed to register for a course requiring said prerequisite (Intermediate Micro), even if that student hasn’t yet passed the course. If they fail the prerequisite, that fact will ultimately come to light, and the student won’t be allowed to take the advanced course. In summary, we register as we will be, not as we are. It’s an inefficiency, certainly, but it’s far less inefficient than waiting until the end of the year, and then letting the horse-race begin.

While the ostensible reason is to encourage 15-unit consumption (and yes, it would be nice to see this evidence of Mr. Hogle’s), an advisor that actually deals with these sorts of requirements offers a more common-sense justification:

Celia O’Brien, academic advisor for the department of psychology, said that it would be questionable to assume that this policy change would cause students to take longer to earn their degree.

“This policy change is essentially just spreading out the class standing classification more evenly throughout those 120 units,” O’Brien said via email. “What it may do is cut down the time that any student is classified as a senior.”

Very understandable, but I think that there’s a more reasonable approach to encourage this – grant class standing within the major, rather than on the basis of pure credits alone. This solves the strawman problem in which a sixth-year senior has just decided that his communications major just isn’t working out, and that he wants to try political science. Such a student should be considered a freshman as far as registration is concerned. As far as I know, this is not University policy, but I’m willing to be corrected on this point. To implement such a model would require a more decentralized registration system – an approach, I believe, that would be far more efficient and allow for more experimentation, and for regisration systems that take into account the idiosyncracies that plague registration for different majors.

All of this aside, the goal of evening out the status distribution undercuts the other proposal put forth by the administration:

Along with the class standing changes, UA faculty and administrators have recently proposed changes to the Grade Replacement Opportunity policy.

Under the proposed GRO policy, undergraduates may only use the Grade Replacement Opportunity to repeat courses in which they received a D or E. Students will no longer be able to GRO a grade of C.

Also, only freshmen, sophomores, or students who have completed fewer than 60 credits, may GRO a course. Juniors and seniors will still be able to repeat a course but will not be able to replace the grade.

The problem with this, of course, is that more students will have a lower classification because of the earlier policy; the GRO situation has not been solved, but rather has been shifted. A junior who was formerly hogging class space for his grade-changing GRO will now be considered a “sophomore” under this new policy, and will thus be able to do exactly what he would have done under the former regime.

Really, though, the only legitimate reasons for a GRO are extenuating ones – family deaths, serious accidents, and what not. Such circumstances can easily be explained before a committee, who should explain beforehand the higher standard that must be met to engage in a GRO. Right now, according to the Registrar’s site, the only offered reasons for the refusal of a GRO are administrative. To significantly diminish GRO abuse, these standards must be made more stringent.

On a final note, it’s a bit odd to see that an interim official is proposing a rather dramatic change in the university’s administration. Regardless of his merits, this seems like a decision that you would want to hold off on until a full-time hire was made. At the very least, the final proposal should be offered by someone else within the UA’s vast academic bureaucracy.