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Oversubscriptions? Do a Poll Yourself

The administration pooh-poohs the notion that there are many oversubscribed classes at the College, but the problem remains a serious one — despite Parkhurst’s harried denials, like the one on AskDartmouth that asserts that “96.4 percent of undergraduate course enrollment requests were met.”

Undergraduates who are repeatedly shut out of courses should seek out alums from the Class of 1999 or before and ask them how often they were not accepted into a course for which they had signed up. The most common initial reaction will be a puzzled look; 20th century alums had never heard of such a thing. Recently one late-90’s graduate told me that automatically getting into classes was one feature that was so great about her experience at Dartmouth.

Come to think of it, President Kim should do the same thing as he travels among alumni. And he should ask the same question of undergraduates with whom he speaks on campus now. Gathering raw data like this will be a good counterpoint to the Panglossian cooings of the Wright-era administrators that surround him.

Needless to say, the administration is not all that forthcoming about its methodology in arriving at the above-cited figure, but for doubting alumni, the best way to understand the problem is to look at the BannerStudent course enrollment form:


Each time students sign up for a course, they must suggest an alternate course in case their primary choice is oversubscribed. In addition, many courses are “capped”: the number of students is limited in advance, given that the professor does not want the size of the class to be so unwieldy that quality teaching becomes impossible.

These functions seems to me a muscular response to a problem that supposedly afflicts only 3.6% of enrollment choices.

I can’t figure out the source of the problem. Is it that students are gravitating to more popular departments, and the College has not shifted resources to respond to the change in demand? Or are there fewer top-quality profs — the result of the rise in the number of adjuncts, who teach close to half of all classes at the College now — and therefore students overwhelm the remaining excellent professors? Or are there simply fewer courses available to students, given that faculty are spending more time on research and less time on teaching, and that many of the new deans are professors who are now teaching less? Or all of the above?

In any event, it is time for the College to stop denying the existence of the problem and actually do something about it. Adding only a few new professors each year will not measurably improve a Dartmouth education.


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