Cancelled course sparks anger

It is not a new phenomenon for Portland State students to face problems when registering for classes at the beginning of each term.

It is not a new phenomenon for Portland State students to face problems when registering for classes at the beginning of each term.

According to Cynthia H. Baccar, the director of Registration and Records at PSU, there is no “hard, fast rule” for the cancellation of courses during registration each term. 

Baccar also made it clear that, in the end, the generation of course schedules and changes are not made by Registration and Records, but at the discretion of the departments under which they fall.

“Departments edit the schedule based on last year’s, and they control the restrictions on the course, [such as] size, pre-requisites and who it’s open to,” she said.

According to Baccar, while most cancellations occur within the first week of classes each term, most departments and professors try to keep them open as long as possible. Oftentimes, for courses that are required for specific majors, low turnout does not lead to its cancellation.

“We try our best to find resources to offer additional sections [and] expand capacity,” Baccar said.

Robert Mercer, the assistant dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said that the university has always struggled with how to address classes with low enrollment, especially since PSU offers numerous small-size courses. 

Unfortunately, these efforts are not always successful, and conflicts or lack of interest are often beyond the control of the university or its departments.

However, there are times when it would seem that certain groups of students are left at a disadvantage, as a result of what would appear to be an avoidable situation.

For example, Writing 428, titled “Advanced News Writing,” which is taught by Julie Sullivan of The Oregonian, was cancelled during the first week of the spring term, allegedly because there was insufficient interest.

In an e-mail to Mercer, ASPSU President Jonathan Sanford explained that there were at least 12 students who were interested in taking the course, but were not able to register as a result of the error that led to WR 428’s cancellation.

The course can be a requirement for certain undergraduates pursuing a nonfiction creative writing minor. 

 “I do appreciate the quick responses from multiple staff after our inquiries about [WR 428’s] cancellation,” said Natalie Caceres, a student at PSU. “But it really didn’t give us a chance to at least keep the class open for the first day, much less the first week, which we were hoping would have captured the attention of other English/Writing majors that could have been interested.”

According to Caceres, she and other students had hoped they would be given more of a grace period to try to garner more interest in WR 428 through the English department by contacting listservs and professors so that the course would be offered. 

“In defense of those who replied to me, I will say that I did not e-mail the professor prior to the first day of class to let her know of my interest,” Caceres wrote. “But there was no direct e-mail to the professor on BanWeb, and the majority of us [students] are accustomed to the protocol of showing up to the first day regardless [of having] a Special Registration Form in hand.”

Similar situations may be more common than necessary, partially as a result of a mentality on the part of certain students who choose to forgo online pre-registration, and instead expect to register for courses the first day of class with add/drop late registration forms. This sometimes prompts the department to notify Registration and Records that the course does not have enough students to make it worth the professor’s time or department’s resources. The course is then removed from the catalog, and those who legitimately registered are left without options.

This policy is the result of a recent report released by the Office of Academic Affairs regarding PSU’s minimum enrollment policy, which outlines basic guidelines for course offerings and the response to courses with low enrolment.

A bulletin released on March 31 makes it clear that PSU’s minimum enrollment policy is designed to “ensure ongoing curricular effectiveness and the efficient use of resources through program planning.”

The document also reads that there are “pedagogical and practical reasons why certain classes should be exempt from this policy,” citing experimental courses, those that are enriched by a smaller class size and courses whose cancellation would be of a greater cost to the university. 

However, the bulletin does not mention what the university’s specific policy is with regards to the best time for course cancellation.

Mercer said that while there is not an exact science to course cancellation, it has been determined that the deadline for most courses fall on the Wednesday before the first week of the term, in order to avoid leaving students in the lurch when a course is cancelled after a week, as well as to free up resources for other potential course offerings.

In addition, Mercer said that the problem with such a policy is not that the university is too harsh, but that students do not take full advantage of their ability to register early, especially in the summer months. 

Although students often wait until the week before classes to register, leading to course cancellation, this was not the case for WR 428. Despite student interest, the course still did not meet the requirement of 15 registered students for combined 400/500-level classes. 
According to university policy, during the winter term the Office of Institutional Research and Planning provides each department’s dean’s office with data on course enrollments for the previous three years.

After review, if the average enrollment of any given course, not including the exceptions, has been less than the minimum required enrollment over the most recent three years, the dean will discuss the situation with the chair of the particular department in which the course falls to determine “the appropriate course of action, including cancellation.”