No Fun Allowed: UCSD’s Problem With Non-Academic Electives

UC San Diego is a university world renowned for, among other things, the wide variety of classes that are offered. With over 159 majors and 104 minors across 49 departments and six colleges, along with several opportunities to design an “individual major,” there certainly is not a lack of subject matter. That being said, while offering a wide variety of academic courses and a number of freshman seminars, UCSD has failed to provide a sufficient number and variety of for-fun electives available to all students.

Currently, for-fun electives at UCSD are few and far between. In a straw poll of Guardian readers, only 26.8 percent surveyed said that they had ever taken a two-unit pass/no pass elective. Likewise, a quick search through the course catalog suggests that such electives are offered on a minimal basis through the music and theatre and dance departments. While these are both interesting subject areas, many students have a desire for a broader range of subject matter.

However, for-fun electives can take a number of forms beyond the performing arts. In the same straw poll, students suggested a variety of potential for-fun electives, some of which included ceramics, a discussion section on pop culture, culinary arts, physical education classes, the history of Disneyland, and life skills (aka Adulting 101).

These types of classes, regardless of academic rigor, have a lot to offer for both the individual student and the university at large. While some may argue that for-fun electives do not offer any substantial academic benefits, research suggests the opposite is true. A study from California State University, Sacramento found that when college students participated in at least one of any type of extracurricular activity, they had higher retention and graduation rates, maintained higher GPAs, and were more likely to hold academic good standing. When considering for-fun electives as a more rigorous form of extracurricular activity, these findings suggest that offering more of these types of courses has positive effects on students indirectly in the academic realm.

While there are clear benefits to offering for-fun electives, a potential argument against expanding for-fun electives would be that these courses would be an easy way for students to boost their GPAs without much effort. However, courses like those offered under MUS 95 are only able to be taken on a pass/no pass basis. This has not deterred students from taking these courses; at the end of Winter Quarter 2019, MUS 95G, Gospel Choir, had 441 enrolled students across its two sections. When comparing this high enrollment number with the number of undergraduates enrolled in the three music majors, 127 as of Winter Quarter 2019, it is clear that courses like MUS 95G are popular amongst the general student body rather than just within the music department.

Likewise, while students do have the option to take any course they like Pass/No Pass, within reason, most courses at UCSD are structured to be worth four units. A unit at UCSD equals one hour of classwork and two hours of outside work. When planning schedules, it can often be difficult for students to manage to fit in an extra four-unit course just for the fun of it, because even if they take the class for Pass/No Pass, they still are required to put in quite a significant amount of time. Two-unit for-fun electives would offer a better alternative for students because they could take courses in subject areas they are interested without having to deviate too much time away from more important classes.

Another critique that could arise would be that students would take these courses as an easy way to get out of doing certain GEs. However, of the currently offered two-unit electives under the music and theater and dance departments, only two of the colleges, Sixth College and Roger Revelle College, allow them to count towards their respective Fine Arts requirements, with Revelle being the only college to consider a single two-unit course as sufficient for meeting the requirement. The other four colleges require that courses taken to fulfill either the Fine Arts or Disciplinary Breadth requirements be worth four units. Likewise, if such electives were offered, each college would take the time to determine whether or not a specific elective would count for a GE requirement, as is already the case with any newly introduced course.

The most important thing to address, however, is whether or not students would even care. After all, UCSD is an academically rigorous school, with the first pass system being an obstacle for many when it comes to selecting classes. While certainly not a random sample, the results of the straw poll suggest that at least some interest for these types of courses exists: 97.6 percent surveyed said that they would be interested in taking a two-unit pass/no pass for-fun elective if a wider variety were offered. Likewise, considering that most major and GE courses are four units and the first pass system allows students to enroll in up to 11.5 units during their first pass date, signing up for two academic classes (eight units) and one for-fun elective (two units) would not be a problem.

Clearly, the interest in, benefits of, and logistical feasibility for offering for-fun electives justify the implementation of such courses. Even though the UCSD administration has taken steps to implement some for-fun programs like the proposed crafting lessons in the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Community that will offer lessons in pottery, crafting, and knitting, among other things, this will not be available for students until construction is complete. For now, at least, students interested in expanding their horizons on a strictly for-fun basis can still have the option to do so through extracurriculars and rec classes offered through RIMAC. For the time being, at least, I for one will just have to sit around and wait for the day to come when “LTWR 118A: Elon Musk Fan Fiction Workshop” is finally offered.


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