Budget cuts unexpectedly take away classes that students need to graduate

Zach Fromson stands next to the English department, which houses the creative writing program. Fromson had to fight all the way to the dean of the College of Humanities in order to graduate on time after his summer class was unexpectedly cancelled. Photo by Jessica Small
Zach Fromson stands next to the English department, which houses the creative writing program. Fromson had to fight all the way to the dean of the College of Humanities in order to graduate on time after his summer class was unexpectedly cancelled. Photo by Jessica Small

As a creative writing major and horror extraordinaire, Zach Fromson, or Xach to his friends, never thought his real life would reflect his stories.

But, Fromson’s story doesn’t involve unsavory poltergeists or maniacs wheeling chainsaws.

“I registered for two classes that I needed to take this summer in order to take four in the fall and graduate in December,” said Fromson, 25, who will be in his fourth semester at CSUN. “After I had enrolled and paid summer tuition for both of those classes, one of them vanished.”

Some students may already be familiar with Fromson’s nightmare.

“It was cancelled and there was no e-mail or any other contact sent out to the students that were enrolled. It simply was no longer offered. That would have forced to me to stay an extra semester to take one class,” he said.

Of course, these vanishing classes are courtesy of proposed budget cuts totaling almost $600 million for the CSU system.

At last week’s California Faculty Association (CFA) meeting, members mentioned a 30 to 40 percent cut in fall courses.

This doesn’t count the large blow to summer session classes that students like Fromson have already felt.

But, Fromson took action when he learned that his class had been cancelled.

“I sent a letter to the creative writing advisor and I said, ‘I know this isn’t your fault, but I expect you to fix it,’” he said.

His letter traveled up the creaky ladder of bureaucracy from the head of the English department, where the creative writing program is housed, all the way to the dean of the College of Humanities.

Finally, Fromson heard what every student after seven and a half years of undergraduate coursework longs to hear. He would be able to graduate on time.

After seeing the considerable amount of units Fromson had, the dean decided to waive one of the requirements to fulfill the creative writing major. The requirement was the ever-elusive, disappearing summer class.

For the most part, other students at CSUN have mixed reactions to the budget cuts. Summer cancellations were more of a nuisance than a dilemma.

Jaime Martinez, 21, a CTVA major, was also shut out of summer classes like Fromson, but said he isn’t worried about the rest of his CSUN career.

“It’s not affecting my graduation because I only really need a semester and a half, but I wanted to just get some of the classes out of the way during the summer. I guess I just didn’t have that option,” he said.

Since Martinez works as a front desk student assistant at the Associated Students building on campus, he gets priority registration for classes.

“If it wasn’t for my priority registration I probably wouldn’t have gotten into some of the classes I got into,” he said.

Martinez added that he knows other students who have been slightly derailed by the course cuts, but these hiccups won’t affect their graduation dates. They plan to take on more coursework each semester rather than graduating at a later time.

He said the journey of entering college has been a lot harder for his sister, who will be a freshman at CSUN this fall. Not only are her classes limited, but she also hasn’t received as much financial aid.

On the administration side of the graduation scares, Beatrice Crowdy-Turner, the associate director of the graduation evaluation center, doesn’t think the rate of graduation has been affected yet.

She said about 4,000 students came through their doors for last semester’s commencement, which is essentially no different from previous years.

The effects of course reductions may not be felt until fall semester starts.

“We’re not right in the thick of it yet,” Crowdy-Turner said.

Since the budget cut conundrums have gained momentum over the past few months, she said she hasn’t seen many substitution waivers come across her desk. A substitution waiver allows a student to substitute a class they took at a community college for a CSUN class they may not be able to get into before graduation.

The graduation evaluators expected an influx after the summer class cancellations, but there haven’t been anymore than usual.

Fromson may just be the pioneer for future students who must fight to graduate on time because of budget cuts rather than their own indiscretions.

As Crowdy-Turner intimated, some students might not know about their graduation futures until they find out which classes they can take.

“[The budget cuts] could [affect me], because I’m going to be a senior,” said Matthew Masatani, a kinesiology major. “And depending on what classes they offer, ultimately might affect my graduation. Theoretically, I should be able to graduate in a year, but again it depends on what classes I get into these two last semesters.”

Masatani said he planned to wait it out before he worries too much about something over which he has no control.

An interesting case arose near the bookstore, where a young woman diligently studied. She said she wasn’t a CSUN student. Most people might assume she was a student from a nearby CSU, or even a UC.

But, Ruby Gardner said she’s only visiting home for the summer while she takes a chemistry class on campus. She’s actually a student at Brandeis University, a prestigious private school in Boston.

This may leave some CSUN students scratching their heads while they cram their fall schedules to make up for their cancelled summer classes.

For a state university that claims to offer a better price tag on education to a mostly local student body, they are benefiting someone who doesn’t even attend a CSU, let alone a school in California.

If a non-CSUN student could get into a summer class, this indicates the class wasn’t full. What about classes that were in more demand in larger departments? Why were they cancelled over a class that had enough room for a Brandeis student?

Either way, Fromson said it’s not necessarily the university’s fault for the cancellations, which inconvenience CSUN students, but assist others who don’t attend the university.

“Everyone seems to be getting hosed equally,” he said. “But, I think that it’s all happening so fast, in the higher positions, no one has the opportunity to assess the situation and figure out the right way to go forward.”

Fromson said his opinion about CSUN as an institution hasn’t changed since his graduation debacle.

“Everyone’s trying to do the best they can, unfortunately, the best that they can is the worst we’ve ever seen,” he said.

But, Fromson said he thinks CSUN should offer an alternative if they cancel a class in which students have already enrolled.

He also pointed out another result of the budget cuts besides the dreaded extended college career. In fact, it’s quite the opposite situation, where some students don’t feel they are ready to graduate.

“They don’t have the money to keep us. There’s just such a budget crunch that every semester past your fourth year, or what would be your fourth year that you stay, you cost the university more money than you make them by paying tuition,” he said. “That’s costing all of us that are in this situation who might otherwise be able to take the extra semester or the extra year and graduate when the economy is better, and it’s putting us on a track to graduate right now, whether we want to or not,” he said.

Fromson’s keen insight on budget woes came at the twilight of his CSUN career, but his experience can be a lesson for future CSUN students who will undoubtedly be affected to a greater extent.

After so many years of undergraduate studies under his belt, Fromson said he’s keeping an open mind about what’s next for him in the unknown that many call, “the real world.”

“I’ve got options I’m exploring,” he said. “My degree’s in creative writing, so I’m going to start by just spreading out every story I’ve ever written and standing over them on the living room floor and say, ‘OK, which one do I write first?’”