The Front of the Classroom Just Got Even Farther

    ON CAMPUS — The budget crisis has claimed plenty of victims at UCSD. Now, joining TA salaries and an array of German Literature courses already in tragic extinction is the beloved senior-seminar program.

    Last year, UCSD seniors had the chance to take a single-unit, 20-student course on a highly specific topic of their choice, ranging from “Hearing Racialized Gender” to “The Hermit: Solitude, Society and the Search for Meaning.”

    From its conception in Fall Quarter 2006, the senior seminar program was designed to provide seniors with a uniquely small discussion setting. After funding was eliminated this year, however, the popular scheduling-filling program shrunk from 28 courses to four.

    Under budgetary circumstances, the seminars may have seemed an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice: On the surface, seminar students seem to do little more than dip their toes into a highly specific area of concentration. But the opportunity for a close-knit learning environment is a rare one at a school of over 22,000.

    University officials have already acknowledged the need to avoid individual anonymity by splitting students up into six smaller colleges. In an academic setting, however, students risk getting lost in the shuffle.

    In the past, the professors who chose to teach senior seminars have gotten $1,500 in research money for their efforts. Though four admirable professors chose to run seminars for free this quarter, we can’t expect all faculty members facing pay cuts, layoffs and furloughs to assume the full burden of saving the program on their own dime.

    Seeing as freshman seminars (single-unit courses geared toward younger students) have retained full funding for this school year, it only seems fair that academic affairs should spread the love. If stipends were reduced across the board, it would be possible to offer $1,000 in research grants — as opposed to the previous $1,500 — to professors that may want to teach senior seminars, but cannot spare the time and effort without some kind of compensation.

    Without a range of senior seminars in different areas of study (last year they were offered in 16 different departments; this year they’re in four), there exist few last-minute chances to create the kind of relationship with a professor that can turn out personal enough to land a job after graduation.

    Administrators often brag about their world-class researchers and professors, but if students don’t get the chance to get to know those trailblazers, they’re missing out on a large part of what makes our school so outstanding. Seminars create an opportunity worth far more than the small amount of funding they once received, and somewhat reducing that amount would be preferable to completely denying seniors some much-needed face time with instructors.

    Even if a little fund-sharing is impossible, that doesn’t mean we should keep seniors 30 rows back. Perhaps professors from a variety of departments could offer an open forum discussion each month — if necessary, requiring online event registration beforehand to limit capacity. Though a one-night presentation wouldn’t substitute the senior-seminar experience, students could still learn about a subject near and dear to a variety of professors’ hearts and chat over snacks afterward. The university’s top academic priority should be providing students with the kind of connections that lead to professional opportunities down the line.

    Readers can contact Hayley Bisceglia-Martin at [email protected].

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