Only Four Seminars Remain After Funding Cut

    Though budget constraints led university officials to slash all funding for the senior-seminar program earlier this year, four faculty members have continued to offer seminars this quarter — on their own time, and without compensation.

    Participation in the program has fallen dramatically since Spring Quarter, when 27 faculty members offered senior seminars with the promise of a $1,500 stipend.

    Sociology professor Mary Blair-Loy, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Carl Gibson, chemistry professor Judy Kim and bioengineering professor Robert Sah are the only remaining instructors who chose to lead a seminar this quarter.

    A letter sent by Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Barbara Sawrey to the Academic Senate faculty members in March 2009 stated that stipends would not be provided for professors who offered the seminars, though they were encouraged to participate on a voluntary basis.

    First introduced Fall Quarter 2006, the senior-seminar program was created to facilitate closer interaction between faculty and students through smaller, less demanding courses.

    “I definitely feel like I’m missing out by not talking to the professors, because the job of the TAs is to kind of reiterate what the professor’s saying — kind of clear things up,” Thurgood Marshall College senior Tamer Abu-Dayyeh said. “The benefit is to talk straight to the professors, because he or she has the best interpretation of what they’re trying to say.”

    Abu-Dayyeh said that allowing for more intimate interaction between student and faculty allows professors to write more informed letters of recommendation.

    “You’ve definitely got to get closer to your professors — talk to them, become buddies with them — so that it’s not weird when you’re asking for a letter of recommendation or a reference from them,” Abu-Dayyeh said. “Lots of times, professors just have a generic letter of recommendation where they just fill in the blanks with your name or your information, but the best ones come from the professors that actually know you — that have worked with you on a deeper level.”

    Funding for freshman seminars is still available for this current academic year, but the near future of its funding remains uncertain.

    “It’s pretty generous, the professors who do this,” professor Lisa Tauxe, who teaches a freshman seminar, said. “They get a little bit of research money … per seminar, if they have enough students. So it’s an incentive to teach these classes, and without it I don’t know how many will continue to do it.”

    This quarter, 64 freshman seminars are in session.

    Readers can contact Sarah Smith at [email protected].

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