Con: ‘Holy Grail’ number of students for classes must die

Celia Jimenez

The administration took draconian measures starting this fall to keep high-enrollment classes while discarding the ones that don’t fulfill the minimum criteria. It asks for a ridiculous cap of 35 students per class. A number nobody has been able to explain under which pedagogical variables have been done and why it has to be equally applied across all departments when each of them has different needs.

This autocratic number is also applied to classes such as photography, dance and music, to mention a few, that lack space or have equipment limitations jeopardizing students’ safety and learning. Perhaps, some broken extremities and some Fs and Ds are better than not fulfilling the Holy Grail number.

This number was discussed during the Academic Senate meeting and brought out the risk of quality of education. History Professor Peter Haro was concerned that if in order to keep those numbers (35 students), instructors would have to lower their class standards by taking books or exams out of the syllabus.

Nick Slinglend, a math professor, favored smaller classes because students have a significant grade improvement during their summer classes that have fewer students per classroom than in a regular semester.

In smaller classes, teachers have time to get to know students and provide them, up to some extent, a more personalized and diversified teaching to accommodate students’ needs. It also gives more time for grading and providing extensive feedback on exams and papers. It’s not the same to grade 80 10-page research papers than 140, right?

High caps endanger distinctively specialized programs because upper division classes do not follow the same trend than lower division and transfer classes do. Advanced classes are mainly for students who want to get their certificates and associate’s diplomas.

One specialized section affected was solar energy from the Air Conditioning, Refrigeration and Environmental Control Technology Department. Two classes were cancelled for low enrollment despite the importance of this field in San Diego County.

Solar energy is the fastest growing renewable energy in the country. The city of San Diego, which is leading in this trend, has a solar energy implementation plan that started on 2008 to have a more sustainable system in the future. North County cities such as Oceanside, Vista and Carlsbad are investing on solar energy. However, San Diego City College has shot down two classes related with this field.

The Visual and Performing Arts Department was severely beaten with 21 classes cancelled. Katie Rodda, co-chair of the visual and performing arts department, read a speech at an Academic Senate meeting on Sept. 14, describing the lack of support they had from the administration despite the contributions from her department to the City College centennial celebration and the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade.

In 2013, in support of photographers, French newspaper Libération was published without photographs showing their power and importance. Can you imagine how boring your life would be without music, dance, painting, photos, videos and literature? Art may not be economically quantifiable, yet it is a powerful tool for communication and an inner piece of cultural enrichment.

Visual and Performing Arts Department Co-Chair Alicia Rincon affirmed that in her 30 years at City College she has never faced a similar situation before while Renee Kilmer, interim vice president of instruction, refuted that declaring it was an ongoing issue that nobody really paid attention to until it was unsustainable for the college to keep those classes open.

I wanted to make a class cancellation comparison between fall 2015 and previous years, so I emailed the vice president of instruction from City College, but I found some obstacles. Kilmer answered my email saying it will take some time to gather this information as if we were living in a pre-digital era. Finally, she provided us with the data for fall 2015 and it came down to the ridiculous quantity of 41 low enrollment classes being cancelled.

Forty-one? Would teachers have been so outraged for just 41 classes? I don’t think so. I went back to our online schedule and found more than 130 cancelled classes, but since it didn’t say why those were cancelled, I moved up on the chain of command and emailed Stephanie Bulger, the vice chancellor of instructional services and planning, the same question. She directed me to their public relations director: Jack Beresford.

Beresford’s answer was dry and simple. City College didn’t have any records of cancelled classes for low enrollment from this semester nor for previous years. Really? No data? Why? And how did Kilmer come up with the magical number of 41 if that data doesn’t even exist? Is it because it’s a natural number and we non-mathematicians wouldn’t find out?

Between even and odd numbers, the only reality is that there is something fishy in this situation and the big losers are students and teachers who are suffering the consequences of the cancelled classes.

Without the required classes, students are forced to extend their time in college, change their majors or move further distances, affecting their frugal budgets and their expectations of getting a better job.

Adjunct teachers are facing unemployment or loss of health insurance while the rest of the faculty are teaching classes they are not fully prepared for or dealing with the pressure of having 35 students.

The administration took the Knights out and slashed low enrollment classes. This is going against class diversity, and a better quality for education. This system is emphasizing that some classes are more valuable than others. It is also contradicting the mission statement of this institution, “San Diego City College has at its highest priority student learning and achievement.” But who cares? Sometimes you have to sacrifice your principles. Let’s face it. They need extra bucks; although, the district is dealing with abundance.

Public education is becoming a for-profit factory business. Taking students in and out as soon as possible, so they can leave their seats to new, raw materials to start all over again with their assembly line. Pushing students into a cookie cutter for majors and vocational plans that have quantifiable profit without taking in consideration that excess supply cheapens salaries and increases unemployment. This view sounds terribly congruent with the idea of standardized colleges and unprepared transfer students to four-year universities.

This concept is and will be a burden for the underprivileged. It screams: Sorry! You have a limited pass for higher education. Enjoy it while it lasts!