Is this Sewanee or “Big State U?”

by Martin Davis

Staff Writer

Without getting into all the benefits of a liberal arts education, suffice it to say that most all the students at this University, understand the value of them, and selected Sewanee for this reason. Sewanee requires a proficiency in a core curriculum before the granting of a degree. This is distinctly different from land-grant universities that have either a greatly diminished or non-existent general education requirement. In fact, many students at large state institutions often declare a major upon matriculation.

In stark contrast, Sewanee requires students to successfully complete courses in the core curriculum, also known as, General Education (“Gen Ed”) requirement. Before the granting of a degree, Sewanee require the completion of these Gen Ed requirements.

In theory, exposing freshman and sophomore students to various academic disciplines enhances a student’s ability to discern their true academic zeal. In general, students that graduate from Sewanee are better-rounded and better-suited to face an ever-changing modern society because of the academic discovery and exposure received as a student. The discovery of their academic passions leads to life long learning. Recognition of this passion may never occur unless course enrollment happens outside of the student’s comfort zone. Ideally this occurs during the freshman or sophomore years. At Sewanee, by design, the Gen Ed mandates this opportunity occur early in a student’s collegiate experience.

Recognition of a field of interest may blossom into a degree Major or Minor. As a practical matter, when Gen Ed classes are taken as upperclassman, an opportunity is lost. A passion too late discovered cannot be acted upon, as a student cannot act upon this information to realize a different degree Major or Minor.

Presently, one hundred level classes boast the largest number of students ever. And, these same classes are nearly always full, some with waitlists Photo courtesy of twenty-five students. With increasing enrollment, more professors have not been hired to accommodate the rising enrollment and new large class sizes (roughly five-hundred students per class). Or, perhaps this outcome results from the abhorrence by professors to teach introductory level classes. Alas, larger enrollment increasingly appears to be the norm at Sewanee. Additive to the problem comes Registrar reserving seats in introductory courses for the incoming freshman class. This only further decreases the likelihood for completion of the Gen Ed requirements during freshman and sophomore year.

Worse of all, labaratory classes necessary to satisfy the Gen Ed. Lab. requirement prove even more elusive. Unless a Lab. class is taken in the first-round of registration, there exists little or no a chair in lab class. The resulting mayhem reveals a system broken. A class registration process in which students cannot take required or desired classes, in order to progress toward graduation in a their chosen Major, or Minor. In the introductory level classes enough seats simply do not exist for demand. With a shortage of introductory classes, many students have difficulty finding a fourth class. Students must and fill the remainder of their schedule with random electives which fail to satisfy Gen Ed requirements or Major or Minor requirements. The resulting classes merely fill-the-gap in order to remain enrolled, i.e., to achieve the requisite number of classes, or hours, per academic year. The available classes during registration are almost always three hundred level classes. However, these classes generally have prerequisites. But, the ability to take the prerequisites is not available, because the prerequisites are full, with waitlists. The bottleneck caused by the lack of Gen Ed and introductory classes ensures that these classes will remain nearly empty. This follows the fact that few students possess the prerequisites to take them.

The new “Super-Duper” (sarcasm intended) registration software system only further compounds all of these problems. Previously, before activating SewaneeBanner, professors had the power to override class waitlists. Students could meet with professors and “make their case.” This empowered both students and professors alike. Ultimately, the professor decided whether or not to allow additional students into their classes. If a professor was willing to teach more students, and increase their workload, for the sake of the students, the professor decided, not HAL 9000. . . AKA Sewanee Banner. This meant that for passionate students, or for students in academic emergencies, gracious professors willing, an accord would result.

All of these issues are present even more routinely for students seeking a Minor degree, especially the Business Minor. Stories abound about legions of students, short one class, missing a Minor. Failure to have a specific Minor in today’s super competitive job market could spell a missed opportunity. Currently, Sewanee Banner trumps all humans on campus. Evidently developed for the class registration process at large colleges and universities, Sewanee Banner proves that automation is not always the best remedy. Stories abound at large universities and colleges about students that took an extra year, or two, because classes required for a specific major or Minor were not available. Previously, such claims appeared fantasy. But the shocking reality is that the same situation exists at the University of the South.