Cut Classes Hit Students Hard
February 19, 2004 5:51 PM
Monica Airo could not get into the classes she needs this semester. She's not alone. With fees consistently rising, Airo is one of many SF State students who are running out of money and running towards debt.
“They’re cutting classes all across the board, and I know of people who take six or seven years to get through a year and a half program,” said Airo, a graduate student in the Behavioral and Social Science class and is a college representative for Associated Students.
She’s frustrated that though fees have increased, the availability of course sections are fewer and fewer. Many forces seem to working against SF State students such as Airo, and, in turn, they've began to voice their concerns about the changing dynamics of overcrowded classrooms, course curriculums, and the inability to get the credits necessary for graduation.
“I understand the frustration that students must be feeling,” said John Gemello, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at SF State. He explained that the money being cut from the university’s budget by the state is proportionally much higher than the increase in fees being presented to students. This, he said, explains why the school is forced to hire fewer teachers, cut classes, and accept a substantial amount of fewer students in the following semesters.
It is also true that all college departments are subject to the strain in finances. There is a specific student-to-faculty ratio in each college that determines how much is cut from their individual budgets, Gemello said. The school gives the different colleges their budget and the dean then decides how to distribute it within the department, he said.
As for students not being able to get the classes needed to graduate on time, Gemello emphasized the importance of student and advisor relationships. He said he wants students to get an advisor earlier to map out their careers.
“If courses are going to be available only once over two years, we need to let students know,” Gemello said.
Since the 2002-2003 school year, 194 class sections have been cancelled from the schedule, and the cuts will potentially continue. If passed, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed state budget pushes California State University schools further into their state of financial disparity, said Gemello.
On March 2, students are being urged by the administration to vote on a referendum proposing a fee increase in specific areas to maintain student services. If the referendum does not pass, an additional 575 classes could be cut. The referendum asks students to pay an additional $138 to maintain key departments -- $75 for academic instruction, $33 for athletics and recreation, $14 for the Career Center, and $16 for Student Health/Counseling and Psychological Services.
Despite the money that students may have to pay in the following semester, however, there is a guarantee that classes will continue to be cut, said Gemello.
“If the referendum passes, we thought we’d be able to offer the same number of classes, but that is subject to the state budget and that’s what is going to cause the problem,” he said.
The proposal for CSU budget cuts from the state first goes to Chancellor Charles Reed’s office and then comes to the individual campuses; but even if the referendum passes, SF State will still have over $10 million in reductions to face the following year, Gemello said. If the referendum does not pass, that reduction will be around $13 million.
“Most people are feeling that [Gov. Schwarzenegger’s] proposed budget is the best that CSU will be able to get,” said Gemello, who realizes that the balancing of the state budget expands beyond higher education.
Chris Jackson, of the Associated Students Inc., has seen the changing dynamic of the classroom since the budget cuts. “I pretty much support every referendum on the plate,” he said on his way to crash a Women’s Studies class.
Jackson, a sophomore who’s majoring in Speech and Communications, said the over-populating of his speech classes has forced professors to switch assignments from essays expressing students’ points of view to multiple choice question tests.
In the Issues of Free Speech class, Prof. Joe Tuman accepted 70 students in a class that usually holds 40, said Jackson.
“Professors are letting more students in because [students] are having a hard time getting the classes they need to graduate, but it’s a good thing. As long as you’re in the classroom and getting the information one way or another,” he said.
Although there has been a slight shift in curriculum and less intimate classroom settings, Jackson appreciates the fact that professors are accepting more students.
“It’s really crucial that we thank professors at [SF] State who are accepting more students,” he said, adding that he knows of many friends and fellow students that need to get their 12 units fulfilled in order to receive financial aid.
“In these really harsh times, I don’t want to see our services cut,” he said. “Students will pay a little bit more so the quality of education will stay the same.”
Meredith Thomas, a second semester graduate student in the special majors program, is concerned with the school’s budget cuts for reasons other than the additional money.
The special major’s program is offered to students who have unique academic goals that cannot be attained through the regularly offered major programs at SF State or other Bay Area campuses, according to the SF State’s University Bulletin. Further, the Bulletin also states that budget restrictions by the State of California may close off acceptance of new students in these programs at any time without prior notice.
This worries Thomas. It would be devastating if her program were closed, she said.
“In terms of the cost of this school, the big issue for me is that I’m at SF State getting a Masters because of the special major program, and my concern is that I wouldn’t have come to this university had I known the program wasn’t available,” Thomas said, “It was very alarming that it would be closed because of the budget and the way funding is designated—that’s the way [the budget cuts are] effecting me.”
Professors at SF State also understand the pressure students are facing in terms of graduating on time and getting the classes they need.
Joel Schechter, chair of the Theater Arts Department, tries to help out students in as many ways as he knows possible. For example, Schecter puts books on reserve in the library for those who can’t afford to buy them.
“One of my classes is very crowded, and I gather students have had difficulty getting other classes,” said Schechter. “As many students as we have, I wish we could fit more chairs into the room.”
He admits that the classroom environment has suffered in light of the impact on classes.
“It’s much harder to have personal contact with students in a large class,” said Schechter. “I try to have discussions with students about the plays, but it becomes more difficult to have a free-flowing discussion when class becomes too large."
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