Now that we’re substantially into the semester, and the sting of getting the boot from that first-choice class has subsided, it’s time to look back and rant on the confusion that is add/drop. We come to Amherst for one main reason: the academics. Our school provides the best teachers and they teach the best classes, so we agree to pay huge sums of money, time, energy and hard work. Why, then, semester after semester, are we subjected to a system that is not only inefficient, but also keeps us from taking those classes and learning from those very teachers that we chose this school for? The way our add/drop period is arranged now, tons of students are blocked from over-enrolled classes, dropped from courses they were promised and left choosing classes they have no real interest in, solely because they have no other option.
Amherst’s open curriculum is one of our uniquely defining characteristics. Many arrive on day one with no idea of the path they plan to follow, and the beauty of our system is that you can take everything from “Quantum Mechanics” to “The Language of Movement” in order to hone your opinions and interests. However, this striking feature of Amherst becomes obsolete when you are not only unable to take your first choices for classes, but you can’t even get into your second, third and sometimes even fourth choices!
Oftentimes, preregistering doesn’t mean anything; people who did it still get burned, and non-preregistered people get in over them. Seniority and one’s major regularly play large roles in deciding who takes precedence, but we get to the point where the only students getting into the class are those with very specific qualifications. This forces the rest of us to frantically scan through the course catalog, desperate for any other open class that slips perfectly into our only empty time slot. It’s also unfortunate that we often don’t know if we’ve actually made the cut for a class for an extended period of time, during which we’re losing the chance to shop other classes and get our names on the attendance list teachers pass around.
We make a lot of requests, and it’s obviously no piece of cake to fix these issues. Especially since Amherst prides itself on its small, intimate classes, it’s implausible to simply demand things like more room in each class. However, there are some ways to go about this without subjecting us to the pain we currently feel. If there’s a class that’s consistently over-enrolled, maybe it would be possible to open up more sections of it. If there aren’t enough professors to satisfy the need, can’t we hire more? One of the most common justifications professors give is that their classroom isn’t physically big enough to hold the number of students vying for a spot in the course. Yet others make it clear that they’re willing to move to another room if the numbers get too high. Simply giving the teachers the option of a bigger room could make a world of difference. The number of students allowed in each class and the makeup of that group is frequently based on each teacher’s preferred system. Interestingly, multiple teachers have expressed their disdain for the add/drop system, yet thus far no improvements have been made.
Another pressing issue that needs to be addressed is the work given during the shopping period. For example, this semester I was deciding between two courses. They met at the same time, were in the same department and the teacher of one of the classes encouraged us to check out the other and then make our decisions about which class to take for the long haul. On the second day of classes I emailed the encouraging professor to let her know I wouldn’t be in her class that day because I was shopping the other. To my surprise, I received a response letting me know that I was welcome to shop the other class, but I would be missing an in-class assignment that counted for credit. It’s understandable that professors have a certain amount of work they plan on giving throughout the course of the semester, and losing the first few days can be tough, but there has to be a better way to schedule our courses so that we can actually shop some different classes without being penalized for it. If this means a little more reading or an extra problem-set during the semester, so be it. But the way our system runs now makes many of us feel overwhelmed and helpless.
It’s not like we’re looking to get away with something malicious or illegal here — we’re trying to learn! We stumble all over each other to get into the best classes we can…shouldn’t we be rewarded for that?