CHSS class minimums raised due to university budget cuts

This story was originally published in the Nov. 18 issue of Fourth Estate7

Communication classes that do not have at least 15 students registered by Dec. 15 may be cancelled.

This change has been made in order to contribute to recent university budget cuts that were the result of a state tax shortfall totaling $2.4 billion for fiscal years 2015 and 2016. The previous class minimum was 12 students.

The new class minimum applies to all departments within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. CHSS was required to eliminate a total of $800,000 from their budget as part of the university-wide cuts, and increasing the acceptable class minimum was one money-saving method they chose.

“We are upping the minimum a little bit and we are enforcing the minimum a little more strongly than we have in the past,” said Robert Matz, senior associate dean of curriculum and technology in CHSS. “The reason for that is the entire university is in a budget crunch that has to do with the state budget shortfall.”

Matz said he expects this measure will save the college approximately $30,000, but that there is no way to know for sure until registration is complete. He said this is a relatively minor way to make budget cuts since the college was asked to cut a total of approximately $800,000. The majority of CHSS cuts came from a college “rainy day fund” and from a decision to not fill vacant faculty positions.

“We’re not replacing faculty lines,” Matz said. “So somebody retires and instead of hiring a new person, we’re just freezing that line until the budget situation improves.”

Matz said these two measures garnered the majority of cuts CHSS was required to make.

He also said exceptions will most likely be made for honors classes, internship classes, classes students need to graduate, among others.

Lisa Sevilla, undergraduate program coordinator for the Communication Department, said special topics courses are among those most likely to not meet the new minimum.

“It’s predominantly special topics courses [at risk], and it’s mostly because they are special topics,” Sevilla said. “They’re not required. They’re just being offered because we think they’re great opportunities for students and great resources for them to learn.”

Dr. Carla Fisher, who is scheduled to teach a communication special topics course in the spring, agreed the classes are beneficial to students.

“The special topics courses are a wonderful opportunity for students to become skilled in more specialized areas of communication (like family communication and health, children and the media, digital communication and science and the media), and to learn about these topics from internationally renowned experts working in those areas,” Fisher said via email.

Sevilla said that during her five years in the Department of Communication, she could not remember CHSS mandating an increase in the class minimum. However, classes have been cancelled in the past due to low enrollment.

“At least not from the college’s standpoint, we’ve never had an official, ‘This is what needs to happen. Spread the word,’” Sevilla said. “We have had to cancel classes before due to enrollment. It’s usually just one or two classes that don’t have enough students in them, and we can’t justify teaching an entire class, hiring a full-time faculty, adjunct faculty, paying them to teach five students.”

Sevilla said this is similar reasoning behind upping the minimum to save money.

“It’s too expensive to have an instructor, to pay an instructor, to pay for the resources and all of that when there’s only, like, 10 students in a class,” Sevilla said.

Sevilla also said the new minimum of 15 applies just to undergraduate classes. She is unaware of the new graduate course minimum.

According to Sevilla, the Communication Department believes student demand is a better determining factor of cancelations than arbitrary college or department decisions.

“Rather than us straightforward canceling classes, like deciding on our own ambition which courses we keep and which do we not keep for the semester, we’re letting student enrollment for the semester decide,” Sevilla said.

The Communication Department has been trying to inform students of this situation, because prompt registration may to prevent a desired class from being cancelled.

“We want them to know as soon as possible so they can sign up for classes now as opposed to waiting until the week before school begins in January,” Sevilla said. “A lot of students just take their time over the winter break.”

Sevilla said if students wait, “they’re not going to have the opportunities we want to offer for them.”

“Hopefully if we keep blasting and talking to students during advising appointments and sending things out to the listserv and the Facebook page and the twitter pages we’ll get enough interest to be able to hold the classes that we want,” Sevilla said.

Featured illustration by Laura Baker