Squeezed budgets yield many crowded classrooms at CSUN

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As part of ongoing budget cuts and increasing financial pressure, some departments at CSUN have limited the number of courses being offered in an attempt to cut expenses.

The shift has caused more students to enroll in classes that remain available, and some professors said such practices have come at a cost to students and faculty.

“It is getting harder and harder for most who go to college,” said Ricky Manoff, women’s studies professor. “As fees go up (students) have to work more and they have a harder time getting into classes that are being offered less frequently.”

The larger class size is directly correlated with widespread economic problems in the United States, Manoff said, adding that universities do what they can to save money, but do not spend the savings on improving student instruction.

As colleges across the country try to trim costs by reducing course offerings, they increasingly turn to part-time faculty to teach the larger sized classes, she said.

As a result, part-time instructors take on more demanding workloads, which often involves working at more than one college or university and less time for student interaction, Manoff said.

“If a student is in a classroom that is small, they get so much more individual attention,” she said. “Professors should have students write essays to evaluate their thinking processes and how they develop ideas. They shouldn’t be giving students multiple choice exams.”

For some professors, the larger class sizes and the additional time spent grading students’ papers are a mounting concern.

“I always have more students wanting to take the class than seats,” said Cathy Lynne Costin, professor of anthropology. “The problem is there (are) never enough seats for the demand.”

Costin said she lectures for two relatively large Anthropology 308 classes, one with 70 students and another one with 50. She said the sizes of the classes are attributable to the classes being General Education requirements.

Because the class is a writing intensive course, the increased class size has had an effect on her teaching and testing methods, she said.

Costin, who has been teaching at CSUN for 13 years, said in the past her department allowed student assistants to help with certain time consuming tasks, such as grading papers. Pointing to a foot-high stack of student essays in her office, Costin said the short writing assignments she gives easily take up to 10 hours per week to grade.

“I no longer give essay exams,” Costin said. “Two years ago the former department chair told us we’re not allowed to use students or staff for instructional purposes.”

Kristyan Kouri, professor of sociology and women’s studies courses, said budget constraints have been gradually making class sizes bigger and have diminished the rapport between professors and students.

“The thing about CSUN is (students) would know smaller class sizes gave them access to professors,” she said.

After nearly 30 students tried to add to her Sociology as Gender Roles course at the start of Fall 2005, Kouri said she went to the Sociology Department chair to request a bigger-size classroom and student assistants in order to accommodate them.

She eventually received a larger classroom and two student assistants to help her grade the papers of the nearly 100 students.

“It was a lot of extra work for me, but I did it out of concern for the students,” Kouri said. “I took pity on them.”

Offering fewer classes and increasing the amount of students as a way to keep down expenses in the midst of budget constraints is costing CSU students more than lost access to their professors, she said.

Gone is their advantage over the University of California system, which is widely known for having hundreds in a class, often taught by a graduate student, Kouri said.

“Wouldn’t (students) rather be taught by someone who has dedicated their lives to the discipline, rather than people who are new to the field?” she said.

“It undermines the quality of education,” she added.

The recent trend to bring teaching associates to teach lower-level classes that full-time faculty were once paid to teach also has others worried.

“On one hand, it’s a good learning experience for teaching associates, but it comes at a cost to students,” said Ron Wallingford, physics and astronomy professor.

Initially, the Physics and Astronomy Department’s full-time faculty taught the lab course with the assistance of a teaching associate, he said.

Once the associates were eliminated, the full-time professors complained and eventually the task of teaching lab courses fell to part-time faculty, Wallingford said, adding that presently all lab course are taught by teaching associates.

He said shifting some of the workload from the highly paid full-time faculty to the T.A.s were the administration’s response to budget constraints.

“They won’t admit to it though,” he said. “The worst thing of all is that students are paying more for education.”

Julio Morales can be reached at julio.morales.605@csun.edu.