Friday, July 22, 2005

Summer Registration

I love the smell of registration in the morning…

Summer in-person registration is a different animal. The students (all too) frequently come with their parents, treating those of us working registration to a disturbing glimpse into family dynamics. (I once saw a mother slap her daughter on the head while the daughter was filling out her schedule. What are they thinking?) Some of the 18 year olds apparently have mistaken the college for a beach, judging by their clothes. Students let down their guard at summer registration, often using a disarming frankness in saying things like “I don’t want any hard classes,” “I’m usually too hung over for a morning class,” or “I’m just taking classes to stay on my parents’ health insurance.” (All true quotes, all said to my face.)

(Come to think of it, the last quote may be an argument against national health insurance. If we keep private health insurance too expensive for the young, unless they’re in school, they’ll go to school! Hmm…)

Faculty make a point of blowing off summer registration, but reserve the right to complain about any decisions made there. (My favorite, which wasn’t even a complaint: last Fall, one professor dropped by to thank me for stocking his classes that semester with good students. Apparently, I’m a game warden, and students are trout.)

This is when I get blamed for not being psychic. Why didn’t I know that we’d have a sudden groundswell of demand for Urdu, and why didn’t I know that Anthropology was suddenly going to flatline?

(A close variation on that is the emergency request to build a new lab. “All the bio sections are full. Can we add some?” Sure, I’ll just dip into the spare several million I keep around the office, draw up some blueprints, put it out to bid, clear the permits, break ground, process the change orders, hire the faculty, and have it all up and running in six weeks. No problem. Would you like the power of prophecy with that?)

It’s tricky, too, because we start making decisions about which sections to run and which to close. Since students stubbornly refuse to take the classes that would be most convenient for us, we have to trim our sails to what the market will bear. (Don’t try mixing metaphors like that at home.) Inevitably, that entails changing some faculty teaching schedules. Oh, the hue and cry! How could you possibly have me come in on Tuesdays? I never come in on Tuesdays! (Unspoken, but desired, answer: yeah, full-time jobs are like that.) You’re taking my course away from me! (what do you mean, your course?) Given how many of our classes are staffed by adjuncts, sometimes we have to base decisions on when the better adjuncts are likely to be available (and their schedules can get pretty idiosyncratic). That creates the odd dynamic of moving a full professor’s schedule around to make room for an adjunct. I can justify it on the grounds that it’s best for the students (and, for what we pay the adjuncts, we’re lucky if they show up at all), but the tenured types have long memories. I get accused of autocratic tendencies, since I didn’t run the decision by a committee first. (Of course, if I assembled a faculty committee in July, the ‘autocratic’ accusations would get even worse.)

This is also when the department chairs’ special pleading starts. Can we run this class with an enrollment of five? Sure, it’s small, but Professor Longdead is really looking forward to it, and his health isn’t what it used to be…

The advent of online teaching has complicated the picture, since relatively few faculty have tried it so far. If one of the regulars has to switch out, we frequently don’t have enough depth on the bench for a replacement. (And it’s tough to use adjuncts, since different schools use different web platforms – webCT, Blackboard, e-college, etc. -- and adjuncts can’t make it to training workshops.) Similarly with the half online, half in-class ‘hybrid’ courses – if someone with one of those classes gets switched out or disappears, staffing it at the last minute is a nightmare. It’s an entirely different preparation, even if the content is familiar.

Alas. If it were easy, anybody could do it…