Too many students and not enough of everything else

January 17, 2020

As of right now, the moment when I am writing this article, I have been to each of my classes once. Being my triple major, double minor self, who also takes five classes every semester, I always end up with a wide variety of classes. However, this semester seems to be particularly diverse in terms of classes for me, ranging from economics to fine arts, with philosophy somewhere in between. But these very different classes all had something in common (other than being blessed with my presence): in all of them without exception, the professors urged students to drop the class.

That may send the wrong message without clarification: professors didn’t want all the students to drop the class, but the emphasis was put on people who may not be too interested, or do not think that the class is a good fit for them. Or even, if you intend on dropping the class, don’t delay it. In my not very long time at Brandeis, this has never happened to me before. Sure I’ve been in classes with long waitlists, classes over capacity, classes with not enough chairs for all the students, but I have never had professors encouraging students to drop the class. In my humble opinion, zero to five is a pretty large increase. 

Please don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the professors. A lot of the classes I am taking are discussion-based classes that currently have around 50 people in them. (Have you ever tried to have a discussion with 50 other people? It’s impossible for everyone to get a chance to speak.) Taking a standard 50-minute Brandeis class, and dividing it by 50 (let’s assume one professor and 49 students to make the math easier), that is a minute for each person to speak, including the professor. The professor speaking for only a minute is unrealistic, so assuming the professor speaks for 10 minutes, each student has roughly 49 seconds to speak. Of course not everyone will want to speak, but most of the time, not everyone will get to say everything they would like to say, or even close to that. Even assuming an 80-minute class, the numbers aren’t much better, with only 96 seconds for each person to speak, or if the professor speaks for ten minutes, each student can speak for 84 seconds. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can express an opinion in 84 seconds.

What makes things even harder on everyone is that usually in these discussion-based classes, participation is a large part of your final grade, which means that even people who may not like to speak have to if they want to pass the class. This makes it harder on the professor; they have to give everyone a chance to speak, which isn’t easy when you have a dozen people who want to speak. The obvious solution seems to be to no longer make the class discussion-based, but even saying this makes me sad. I personally love discussion-based classes, and would hate if some of them became lecture-heavy. Who in their right mind would prefer to get lectured on what justice is than argue about it?  

But it is not only discussion-based classes that have too many students than the class is designed to have. One of my classes is capped at a hundred students but currently has over 20 students on the waitlist, according to the Brandeis Schdl website. I understand that it is an interesting class, but that is crazy, especially for a class that is offered fairly often. Some of my friends are in a class that currently has 130 students, but according to the professor is only designed for around 60. I definitely don’t envy any of them. I really do not want to spend a lot of time on the pre-med track lab classes that are impossible to get into, but I feel like they are also worth a mention. If you cannot get into one of those lab classes, you have to wait another year to take it, or take it over the summer; personally neither of those options sound great.

So what is the moral of this sad story? We need more classes offered, we need more sections of classes, we need more professors, and we need larger spaces for these classes. Brandeis’s student body is growing, but the growth in quantity of professors seems to be happening at a much smaller rate. And that is having a negative impact on everyone.

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